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Story 034 – 2030 – Innovation Sustainability Processes

What nature has been doing for 500 million years ...

Obtaining solar energy through artificial photosynthesis

Ten years ago, U.S. researchers achieved the decisive breakthrough in artificial photosynthesis and produced liquid fuel from light, water and carbon dioxide in the laboratory. They used nanometal alloy particles of copper and gold as catalysts and succeeded in imitating nature. In the year 2030, this became another possibility to produce electricity and to transport energy.  

Almost simultaneously with the creative years of P. J. Wieland in the 19th century, the first scientific observations of photosynthesis were made. More than 200 years later, scientists succeeded in artificially realizing photosynthesis under laboratory conditions. They extracted liquid fuel, such as propane, from light, water and carbon dioxide. This imitation of nature had long been one of the greatest challenges for research.

Energy-efficient fuel, such as hydrogen, obtained from the abundant molecules H2O and CO2, was used to generate electricity with the aid of fuel cells. These small biofuel power plants can now be found in many places in Europe and North Africa and feed their share of regenerative electrical energy into the electricity grids. In the mid-2020s, it was recognized that the monoproduction of electricity from nuclear or coal-fired power plants had to be converted to versatile large and small electricity suppliers such as private households and commercial green-electricity producers in order to supply the Smart Grid in a balanced manner.

Artificial photosynthesis brought with it a second major innovation: the efficient storage of solar energy. Nowadays, photosynthesis is used to produce complex liquid hydrocarbons from excess CO2. These liquid fuels are easier to store and transport than hydrogen. It is possible to bundle energy much more efficiently since the end of the 2020s.

The first photosynthesis-based CO2 separation systems have been in use in large-scale industry since 2035. They enable low-energy deposition of CO2 from industry, which can then be converted directly into electricity. This innovation led to a further drastic reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2040.