Artificial Leaf Transforms Natural Elements Into Gas

The modest leaf is an impressive little machine that transforms sunlight and carbon dioxide into energy for a plant. Synthetic versions could also be helpful in renewing energy sources, or even in producing fuels.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge have created an artificial leaf that can generate synthetic gas, or syngas, without producing carbon dioxide.

Syngas is made from hydrogen and carbon monoxide, at times with a pinch of carbon dioxide. Even if it can theoretically be burned to produce electricity or for gas lighting and heating, it more regularly acts as a median field in manufacturing products, including plastics, fertilizers, and fuels such as diesel. Alas, producing it can generate carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The New Design Could Produce Useful Elements

According to Erwin Reisner, senior author of the study, many people may have never heard of syngas itself, but every day, they consume products that were manufactured using it. Being capable of producing it in a sustainable way would be an important step in closing the global carbon cycle and creating a durable chemical and fuel industry, the researcher said.

The Cambridge team then created an artificial leaf prototype that can generate syngas through photosynthesis. The new invention includes two light absorbers made of perovskite and cobalt catalyst. When these elements are put in water, one side generates oxygen, and the other reduces carbon dioxide and water into carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The latter two gases can be transformed into syngas.

The new prototype design currently generates hydrogen at an effectivity of 0.06 percent and carbon monoxide at 0.02 percent. It also joins a bunch of artificial leaf designs that are being worked on in order to create a variety of useful products, such as electricity, fertilizers, drugs, and hydrogen fuel.

In addition, the team of researchers intends to be able to skip the middleman syngas stage.

The research was published in the journal Nature Materials.

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