New solar panels use sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into hydrocarbon fuel.
A team from Chicago’s University of Illinois have developed the solar cell, which works like a leaf during photosynthesis. It produces a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide known as synthetic gas that can be burned directly or converted into diesel and other fuels.
The ability to turn carbon dioxide into fuel at a cost comparable to a gallon of petrol would render fossil fuels obsolete.
Senior Study Author Amin Salehi Khojin said: “The new solar cell is not photovoltaic – it’s photosynthetic.”
“Instead of producing energy in an unsustainable one-way route from fossil fuels to greenhouse gas, we can now reverse the process and recycle atmospheric carbon into fuel using sunlight,” he added.
This type of reaction is called reduction and requires expensive metal catalysts.
The team decided to use nanoflake tungsten diselenide as the catalyst as it is 1,000 times faster than traditional catalysts and about 20 times cheaper.
The team predict the technology will work on both large-scale energy farms and also in small-scale applications.