The molecule acts as a two-part system: a nanographene "energy collector" that absorbs energy from sunlight and an atomic rhenium "engine" that produces carbon monoxide. The energy collector drives a flow of electrons to the rhenium atom, which repeatedly binds and converts the normally stable carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide. The idea to link nanographene to the metal arose from earlier efforts to create a more efficient solar cell with the carbon-based material. "We asked ourselves: Could we cut out the middle man -- solar cells -- and use the light-absorbing quality of nanographene alone to drive the reaction?" said Li.
Li plans to make the molecule more powerful, including making it last longer and survive in a non-liquid form as solid catalysts are easier to use in the real world. He is also working to replace the rhenium atom in the molecule -- a rare element -- with manganese, a more common and less expensive metal.
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