Researchers have developed a prototype device that mimics natural photosynthesis to produce ethylene gas using only sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide.

The novel method, which produces ethylene at room temperature and pressure using benign chemicals, could be scaled up to provide a more eco-friendly and sustainable alternative to the current method of ethylene production.

Ethylene, which is the building block of polyethylene, is an important chemical feedstock produced in large quantities for manufacturing plastics, rubber, and fibers. More than 170 million tons of ethylene were produced worldwide in 2015 alone, and the global demand is expected to exceed 220 million tons by 2020.