‘Artificial leaf’ successfully produces clean gas

‘Artificial leaf’ successfully produces clean gas


A widely-used gas that is currently produced
from fossil fuels can instead be made by an ‘artificial leaf’ that uses only sunlight,
carbon dioxide and water, and which could eventually be used to develop a sustainable
liquid fuel alternative to petrol. The carbon-neutral device sets a new benchmark
in the field of solar fuels, after researchers at the University of Cambridge demonstrated
that it can directly produce the gas – called syngas – in a sustainable and simple way. Rather than running on fossil fuels, the artificial
leaf is powered by sunlight, although it still works efficiently on cloudy and overcast days. And unlike the current industrial processes
for producing syngas, the leaf does not release any additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The results are reported in the journal Nature
Materials. Syngas is currently made from a mixture of
hydrogen and carbon monoxide, and is used to produce a range of commodities, such as
fuels, pharmaceuticals, plastics and fertilisers. We may not have heard of syngas itself but
every day, you consume products that were created using it. Being able to produce it sustainably would
be a critical step in closing the global carbon cycle and establishing a sustainable chemical
and fuel industry, This device creation is inspired by photosynthesis
– the natural process by which plants use the energy from sunlight to turn carbon dioxide
into food. On the artificial leaf, two light absorbers,
similar to the molecules in plants that harvest sunlight, are combined with a catalyst made
from the naturally abundant element cobalt. When the device is immersed in water, one
light absorber uses the catalyst to produce oxygen. The other carries out the chemical reaction
that reduces carbon dioxide and water into carbon monoxide and hydrogen, forming the
syngas mixture. As an added bonus, the researchers discovered
that their light absorbers work even under the low levels of sunlight on a rainy or overcast
day. The team is now looking at ways to use their
technology to produce a sustainable liquid fuel alternative to petrol. Although great advances are being made in
generating electricity from renewable energy sources such as wind power and photovoltaics,
the development of synthetic petrol is vital, as electricity can currently only satisfy
about 25% of our total global energy demand. There is a major demand for liquid fuels to
power heavy transport, shipping and aviation sustainably.

2 thoughts on “‘Artificial leaf’ successfully produces clean gas

  1. I wonder if methane produced on Mars, suspected to originate from life below the surface, might in fact be due to reactions similar to what this artificial leaf produces.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *