Date:October 21, 2020

‘Artificial Leaf’ Created by Scientists, Successfully Produces Clean Gas and Could Replace Petrol

Some scientists from the Univesity of Cambridge have created an  “artificial leaf”, which could be the answer to cleaner petrol in the future.

Nowadays, we use gas that is produced by fossil fuels but as the pressing question around sustainability and the environment ring loud and clear, those alternatives need to be found and used. The answer might be this “artificial leaf”.

What is needed for this “leaf” to create the lean gas called syngas, is sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water. It is simple and sustainable. Even that it requires sunlight just like many solar panels, this artificial leaf can still function on cloudy days. Also, unlike the current industrial processes to create syngas, that releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, this leaf does not.

Syngas has some beneficial uses, it firstly produces commodities such as fuel, pharmaceuticals, plastics, and fertilizers.

Erwin Reisner, who was the senior author of the study, from Cambridge’s Department of Chemistry, said: “you 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.”

The inspiration that the scientists took was from nature and copied the format of photosynthesis, plants use this natural process that uses sunlight to turn carbon dioxide into food.

It’s kind of the same with the artificial leaf. This leaf has two light absorbers that are combined with a catalyst made from cobalt. When it diving into the water, one of the light absorbers uses the catalyst to create oxygen and the other reduces the carbon dioxide and water into carbon monoxide and hydrogen. A surprise and welcome element that scientists discovered during their research was that the system worked even without much sunlight.

“This means you are not limited to using this technology just in warm countries, or only operating the process during the summer months, and you could use it from dawn until dusk, anywhere in the world,” said University of Cambridge Ph.D. student Virgil Andrei, the first author of the study.

The team is now looking at ways to use their technology to produce a sustainable liquid fuel alternative to petrol. Reisner says the development of synthetic petrol is vital, as electricity can currently only satisfy about 25% of our total global energy demand. It’s the time to create and push forward technological innovations like the artificial leaf.