Solar-nano gizmos could save our planet's bacon

Researchers at four English universities are planning to harness the Sun’s energy by using nanotechnology to create clean fuel.

The researchers at Manchester, East Anglia, York and Nottingham universities have already made hydrogen from water but now think that they can apply similar techniques to turn methane into methanol and carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide.

Professor Wendy Flavell at Manchester University’s Photon Science Institute said the scientists will create a solar-nano device using clusters of semiconducting material which absorb sunshine – so-called “quantum dots”.

She said that when catalyst molecules are grafted to the surface of these dots they create new fuel.

The scientists are showing off several elements of their research at the Royal Society’s annual Summer Science Exhibition. One of the collaborators, Professor Chris Pickett at the UEA described the process as a type of artificial photosynthesis. He said that chemists, physicists and materials scientists are working on catalytic devices using quantum dots to form synthetic fuels.

Another, Professor Robin Perutz of the University of York described the project as the most challenging scientific project he’s been involved in. “It’s no use sitting back and hoping that someone else will work out how to harness the Sun’s energy. This technology could revolutionise our energy usage in the coming decades,” he said.