Science 2 min read

Researchers Create Artificial Leaf That Produces Clean Fuel



Scientists at Cambridge University have developed an artificial leaf that could one day produce clean fuel alternatives called syngas.

Synthetic gas or syngas is a fuel gas mixture which consists of hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide. Aside from its application in generating electricity, syngas is also useful as fuel in internal combustion engines.

When gasoline supply was limited in the past, syngas served as a viable replacement. Today, synthetic gas also plays an essential role in creating a wide range of products, including plastics and fertilizers.

Cambridge’s Department of Chemistry and a senior author of the study, Professor Erwin Reisner noted:

“You may not have heard of syngas itself, but every day you consume products that were created using them. 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.”

In a published article in the journal Nature Material, the researchers detailed how they created an artificial leaf that does just that. The leaf creates synthetic gas by gathering energy using water, sunlight, and carbon dioxide.

Creating a Sustainable Source of Clean Fuel

To create the process, the researchers combined a catalyst made from cobalt with two light absorbers – similar to the molecules that harvest sunlight in plants.

So, In water, one light absorber uses the catalyst to produce oxygen. Meanwhile, the other undergoes a chemical reaction that reduces water and carbon dioxide into hydrogen and carbon monoxide, respectively.

This resulting mixture is synthetic gas.

According to the Cambridge team, you don’t need a bright sunny day to create clean fuel. The artificial leaf is just as active on cloudy and overcast days.

In a statement to the press, a Ph.D. student and first author of the paper, Virgil Andrei 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.”

Currently, the researchers are working on creating liquid fuel directly from carbon dioxide and water. That way, they wouldn’t have to make syngas first.

There is a major demand for liquid fuels to power heavy transport, shipping, and aviation sustainably,” Reisner added.

Read More: Why Hydrogen Fuel Hasn’t Gone Mainstream Yet

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Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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