Scientists Create Artifical Leaf That Inhales Carbon and Produces Fuel

Researchers have been working on an artificial leaf that has the potential to transform carbon dioxide in the atmosphere into fuel, according to a report from The Independent.

The new technology is said to be inspired by the natural process of photosynthesis, whereby a plant or tree uses carbon dioxide and produces glucose and oxygen as a byproduct. Researchers say that the artificial leaf design “mimics this process- with the help of a cheap red power called cuprous oxide and produces methanol and oxygen,” according to the report.

They have published their findings in Nature Energy, where the team says the methanol can in turn be collected and used as a fuel source after the water is evaporated with heating. Yimin We, lead researcher and engineering professor at the University of Waterloo said that “this technology has achieved the solar to fuel efficiency of about 10 per cent. This is already larger than the natural photosynthesis about one per cent.”

“The next step is to partner with industry companies to scale it up with a system engineering of flow cell for the production of liquid fuels. More efficient artificial leaves can be developed along the lines with industry partners,” he said.

"This technology has achieved the solar to fuel efficiency of about 10 per cent. This is already larger than the natural photosynthesis about one per cent.”

While it is an extraordinary breakthrough, the team admits that it will take several more years to see the process be commercialised.

According to the report, power is created through a chemical reaction involving glocuse, cooper acetate, sodium hydroxide and sodium dodecyl sulfate, which are added to water. To start the reaction, the team heated up water to a specific temperature, added carbon dioxide, as well as a light source into the chamber.

“Next, researchers want to increase the amount of ethanol produced and commercialise the process by converting carbon dioxide from source- such as from power plants and oil drilling.”

Professor Wu continued to explain that “I’m extremely excited about the potential of this discovery to change the game. Climate change is an urgent problem and we can help reduce carbon dioxide emissions while also creating an alternative fuel,” he concluded.

Cameron Hepburn, professor of environmental economics at the University of Oxford was also mentioned in the report, stating that the development is a new and interesting way to tackle excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

“Key is cost, scalability and their impacts on other key social objectives like the Sustainable Development Goals,” he said. “If valuable products can be made from carbon dioxide, this could lower the costs of climate change mitigation in the long run,” he added.

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