Successful artificial photosynthesis is significant for future human/robotic exploration and terrestrial carbon emissions control.
A new cell designed to mimic the photosynthetic processes of plants to convert carbon dioxide into carbonaceous products and oxygen at high efficiency, has an improved configuration using a polymer membrane electrolyte and an alkaline medium. This increases efficiency of the artificial photosynthetic process, achieves high conversion rates, permits the use of inexpensive catalysts, and widens the range of products generated by this type of process.
The alkaline membrane electrolyte allows for the continuous generation of sodium formate without the need for any additional separation system. The electrolyte type, pH, electro-catalyst type, and cell voltage were found to have a strong effect on the efficiency of conversion of carbon dioxide to formate. Indium electrodes were found to have higher conversion efficiency compared to lead. Bicarbonate electrolyte offers higher conversion efficiency and higher rates than water solutions saturated with carbon dioxide. pH values between 8 and 9 lead to the maximum values of efficiency. The operating cell voltage of 2.5 V, or higher, ensures conversion of the carbon dioxide to formate, although the hydrogen evolution reaction begins to compete strongly with the formate production reaction at higher cell voltages.