The Japanese electronics manufacturer, Panasonic, has announced that it has developed an artificial photosynthesis process which converts carbon dioxide to organic materials by illuminating them with sunlight at an efficiency which is comparable with plants used for biomass energy.

The discovery has the potential to allow the development of simple and cheap systems for capturing waste CO2 from incinerators and electricity generation plants and converting it into useful organic products.

Panasonic researchers found that a nitride semiconductor has the ability to excite electrons with high enough energy for a CO2 reduction reaction. The CO2 reduction takes place on a metal catalyst.

With light, the reaction generates mainly formic acid from CO2 and water at an efficiency of 0.2% which is comparable to the efficiency of plants used as a source of biomass energy. Formic acid is an important chemical used in industry for making dyes and fragrances

Because the system consists of only inorganic materials, which can reduce the CO2 with low energy loss, the reaction rate is exactly proportional to the light power – so, the system responds more to focused light. This is not the case in organic systems because of their complex structures.