Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have increased by more than 40% since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. With the aim of giving back to Mother Nature and undoing some of the damage that our ancestors have inflicted upon the earth, Assistant Professor of Chemistry at The University of Central Florida has united a group of scientists to invent a plant that would trigger the process of photosynthesis in a synthetic material, transforming greenhouse gas into clean air and producing energy at the same time.

Professor Fernando Uribe-Romo describes his invention as a breakthrough: “Tailoring materials that will absorb a specific color of light is very difficult from the scientific point of view, but from the societal point of view we are contributing to the development of a technology that can help reduce greenhouse gas.”

Uribe-Romo’s team’s ‘breakthrough’ invention triggers a chemical reaction in a synthetic material called metal-organic frameworks (MOF) that breaks down carbon dioxide into harmless organic materials. It works the same way that plants convert carbon dioxide and sunlight into food, but instead of producing food, it produces solar fuel.

Although Uribe-Romo’s invention isn’t exactly new in theory (researchers have been trying to achieve this for years), the breakthrough is in managing to achieve the desired outcome. Others before him have failed, primarily because elements that can absorb visible light are both rare and expensive materials like platinum, rhenium and iridium, making the process cost-prohibitive. However, Uribe-Romo’s team used titanium and added organic molecules that act as light-harvesting antennae to see if that configuration would work as efficiently as the rare and expensive materials. The light harvesting antenna molecules, called N-alkyl-2-aminoterephthalates, can be designed to absorb specific colors of light when incorporated in the MOF.

However, the team’s work is not yet done. Uribe-Romo is waiting to see if the other wavelengths of visible light may also trigger photosynthesis with adjustments to the synthetic material. If it works, the process could significantly reduce greenhouse gases for communities.

“The idea would be to set up stations that capture large amounts of carbon dioxide, like next to a power plant. The gas would be sucked into the station, go through the process and recycle the greenhouse gases while producing energy that would be put back into the power plant,” he elaborated.

To be able to install this invention for domestic use, it would take new technology and infrastructure to be installed beforehand. Nevertheless, Uribe-Romo and his team are hopeful that someday homeowners could have it installed on their rooftops, acting like a vacuum cleaner to clear the air of greenhouse gas in their neighborhood while producing energy to power their homes.

This comes inline with the war on greenhouse gas that cities around the world are currently fighting. The Dutch capital of Amsterdam has made leaps and bounds in this regard, adopting new sustainable policies to reach its emission-free status by 2030. The Port of Amsterdam is the fourth largest port in Western Europe to find coal volumes fall 7.5% to 16 million tons in the last year. It expects a further 29% decrease over the next five years. Several European governments, significantly those of Germany and Poland, have stopped burning coal or announced phase-out plans over the next 15 years, deeming it as one of the cheapest ways to wipe out greenhouse gas emissions.