The innovative technology mimics nature and is inexpensive, scientists say. The “artificial leaf,” as researchers have dubbed it, uses the plant process of photosynthesis to break down the destructive chemical. Carbon dioxide is most known for the havoc it has caused in the planet’s atmosphere. Erratic weather patterns and climate shifts are clear as mounting research points to the carbon dioxide culprit. Recently, catastrophic bushfires have been fanned in the US in California and are currently burning at an unprecedented level in Australia’s NSW state. Although arson is often the initial cause of the fire, the scale of the fires is blamed on drought and the lack of water resources to fight the fires due to a shift in weather patterns.
Scientists hope that the artificial leaf can play a part in the fight against global warming. The photosynthesis process is helped along with a naturally occurring red powder called cuprous oxide. The red powder is abundant in nature and helps the artificial leaf turn carbon dioxide into oxygen and methanol. This is then used as a fuel once the solution evaporates.
“I tried to find a new way to mimic photosynthesis in nature, where leaves convert carbon dioxide and water with sunlight to produce glucose and oxygen.
The motivation is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, a greenhouse gas, and hopefully reduce global warming and to provide sustainable energy.”
According to another interview with the Independent, Professor Wu outlined his hope for the commercial industry to pick up this technology.
“This technology has achieved solar to the fuel efficiency of about 10 percent. This is already larger than the natural photosynthesis (about one percent).
The next step is to partner with industry companies to scale it up with a system engineering of the flow cells for the production of liquid fuels. More efficient artificial leaves can be developed along the lines with industry partners.”
Professor Wu, who has worked on this since 2015, believes that it will be years before they commercialize the artificial leaf, but hopes by that time, large companies will take the opportunity to reduce their carbon emissions with the leaf technology. Oil, steel, and automotive companies are on Professor Wu’s radar.
“I’m extremely excited about the potential of this discovery to change the game. Climate change is an urgent problem and we can help reduce carbon dioxide emissions while also creating an alternative fuel,” Professor Wu said, adding that he hoped to increase the amount of ethanol produced by the process on a larger scale.