Peidong Yang's lab awarded CO2 challenge grant from NASA

May 22, 2019

Mars landscape

Mars landscape. Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

As NASA prepares to land humans on the Moon in 2024, the agency is keeping a keen eye on technologies needed for Mars missions that will follow.

NASA has awarded a total of $250,000 to five teams for the initial phase of a CO2 Conversion Challenge including a team of researchers from the lab of Peidong Yang at UC Berkeley's College of Chemistry. The purpose of the challenge is to convert carbon dioxide into glucose in order to eventually create sugar-based fuel, food, medicines, adhesives and other products. While sugar-based biomaterials are created on Earth by plants, this is not practical for space missions because of limited resources such as energy, water and crew time. This capability would let future Martian explorers manufacture products using carbon dioxide in the Red Planet’s atmosphere.

About the project

The research team is working on a project to develop an integrated system to synthesize sugars from CO2. The first step will be powered electrochemically, so that it can use locally generated renewable energy (i.e. from photovoltaic solar cells) for conversion. The output of this first process will be used as sugar synthons that are then upgraded using more traditional gas-phase or water-based catalytic reactions. This second step will yield a sugar mixture of C4–C6 sugars, including glucose. Separating this process into two steps will allow for optimization in efficiency and performance as part of an integrated technology. Overall, this work leverages research from the lab of Peidong Yang in electrochemical and catalytic expertise to synthesize sugars from CO2.

About the NASA program

“A solution to this NASA challenge could provide sustainable infrastructure for human exploration missions,” said Monsi Roman, manager of Centennial Challenges, the NASA program that conducted the competition. “Designing a system that can make this transformation is a big step, and we are excited to see teams build out these concepts.”

Centennial Challenges, part of the Prizes and Challenges portfolio in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, bridges the innovation gap between NASA and the nation by stimulating research and technology solutions inside and outside of the traditional aerospace community. The competitions offer incentive prizes to generate revolutionary solutions to problems of interest to NASA and the nation, and to enable exploration of the Moon, Mars and beyond. Centennial Challenges is managed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

About the Peidong Yang research group

The Peidong Yang research group is interested in the synthesis of new classes of materials and nanostructures, with an emphasis on developing new synthetic approaches and understanding the fundamental issues of structural assembly and growth that will enable the rational control of material composition, micro/nano-structure, property and functionality. We research fundamental problems of electron, photon, and phonon confinement as well as spin manipulation within 1D nanostructures. Future research is focused on chemical integration, self-organization, and physical property studies of these 1D building blocks. 

For further information about this project contact: Dr. Michael Ross at

Team SSwEET: Space-Sugar with Electrochemical Energy Technology