Scientists have developed an artificial leaf that they hope could one day provide a sustainable alternative to petrol. This artificial leaf mimics photosynthesis, as it creates synthetic gas by gathering energy using sunlight, carbon dioxide and water.
Senior author of the study, Erwin Reisner, 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.”
Just as the molecules in plants harvest sunlight, artificial leaf works by using two light absorbers that are combined with a catalyst made from cobalt.
Once kept in water, one of the light absorbers uses the catalyst to create oxygen, while the other reduces carbon dioxide and water into carbon monoxide and hydrogen.
Although this process requires sunlight, unlike many solar panels, these leaves can perform on cloudy days. Moreover it does not release carbon dioxide like the existing industrial processes to create syngas.
Virgil Andrei, a PhD student and first author of the paper, said, “This means you are not limited to using this technology just in warm countries, or only operating the process during the summer months,” “You could use it from dawn until dusk, anywhere in the world.”