In combustion, hydrocarbon fuels are burned with oxygen to release energy, carbon dioxide and water vapor. Here, we introduce a photocatalytic reactor for reversing this process, when carbon dioxide and water are combined and using optical and thermal energy from the sun hydrocarbons are produced and oxygen is released. This allows for the sustainable production of hydrocarbon products from non-fossil sources, allowing for the development of “green” hydrocarbon products. Our reactors take the form of modular cells of 10 x 10 x 10 cm scale where light is delivered to nanostructured catalysts through the evanescent field around dielectric slab waveguides. The light distribution is optimized through the use of engineered scattering sites to enhance field uniformity. This is combined with integrated fluidic architecture to deliver a stream rich in water and carbon dioxide (such as exhaust from a natural gas burning plant) to the nanostructured catalyst particles in a narrow channel. Exhaust streams rich in oxygen and hydrocarbon products are collected at the outlet of the reactor cell. The cell is heated using solar thermal energy and temperatures of up to 200°C are achieved, enhancing reaction efficiency. Hydrocarbon products produced include methanol as well as other potentially useful molecules for fuel production or precursors to the manufacture of plastics. These reactors can be coupled to solar collectors to take advantage of the sun as a free source of heat and light, and the modular nature of the cells enables scaling to larger deployments.
Perry Schein and David Erickson, "Optofluidic reactors for reverse combustion photocatalytic production of hydrocarbons (Conference Presentation)," Proc. SPIE 10081, Frontiers in Biological Detection: From Nanosensors to Systems IX, 1008107 (Presented at SPIE BiOS: January 29, 2017; Published: 21 April 2017); https://doi.org/10.1117/12.2250167.5382458680001.
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