Climate change has been affecting the earth for many years now with global temperatures continuing to increase on average every year. Thankfully, many scientists have helped lead an effort to combat the rising temperatures, and they are finding some very interesting ways to do just that. The newest technology that is being used against climate change is actually just grains of sand, but how would that work?

The University of Toronto is helping to lead the charge to clean up our Earth’s atmosphere, which has been ravaged each year with carbon dioxide emissions that have reached billions of tons annually. The researchers believe that they have the answer to convert the extra carbon dioxide into fuel through the use of silicon, which is found in grains of sand. Unlike clean air and water, there is more than enough sand to go around as it is the second most common element on our surface and one of the most common elements known to mankind.

Geoffrey Ozin is a chemistry professor at the University of Toronto, and he said that “A chemistry solution to climate change requires a material that is a highly active and selective catalyst to enable the conversion of carbon dioxide to fueled. It also needs to be made of elements that are low cost, non-toxic and readily available” which perfectly describes silicon.

Authors of the study into the project said that “It is indeed a surprising yet welcome discovery that plentiful, inexpensive and benign elemental silicon synthesized in the form of ncSi:H made easily and cheaply from commercially available SiO can exploit the reducing power of surface hydride to chemically reduce CO2 to CO.” To find how it would work, researchers used the silicon nanocrystals under a halide lamp with and without hydrogen in the air, saying that “In the war against climate change, the consensus is that carbon dioxide capture and storage alone cannot solve this problem…It might well take something as simple and elegant as CO2 fixation by (silicon) to solve such a monumental global problem.”

Ozin went on to say that “Making use of the reducing power of nanostructured hydrides is a conceptually distinct and commercially interesting strategy for making fuels directly from sunlight.” Still confused by what that all means? Don’t worry, if it weren’t complicated then we probably would have figured out how to do it a long time ago.

Basically what happens is that fields of silicon nanocrystals would be able to absorb wavelengths of light directly from the sun as well as carbon dioxide. Once this is done, the silicon would create carbon monoxide that could be used for energy. It would have to be contained as carbon monoxide can be deadly to humans, which is why we have carbon monoxide detectors in most homes.

Scientists have been spending decades trying to convert carbon dioxide in the atmosphere into fuel, but chemically it has been difficult, making this a huge breakthrough. If the plan succeeds, it would drastically reduce the amount of pollution in the atmosphere while at the same time creating fuel that can be reused many times over, essentially becoming an unending source.