Revolutionary Artificial Leaf Turns Carbon Dioxide Into Clean Energy

For years, we’ve known that plants use carbon dioxide, sunlight, and water to produce energy via photosynthesis. And scientists have been working to mimic that process for the purpose of creating energy for human use.

And now, according to Science Alert, it appears man has indeed been able to duplicate a natural process and create clean energy while also reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere:

“Taking their cue from nature, an international team of researchers from the University of Waterloo, Ontario, have created an ‘artificial leaf’ that mimics the carbon-scrubbing abilities of the real thing.

“But rather than turning atmospheric CO2 into a source of fuel for itself, the leaf converts it into a useful alternative fuel.”

The research team was led by Dr. Yimin A. Wu, a researcher with the Center for Nanoscale Materials at the Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) in Illinois and a professor of engineering from the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology. And here’s how the artificial leaf works:

“In nature, green plants convert atmospheric CO2 and water into glucose and oxygen through the process of photosynthesis. This is made possible thanks to the pigment chlorophyll, which absorbs light from the Sun in multiple wavelengths (violet-blue and orange-red) to power the chemical reactions.

“The glucose is then used by the plants as a fuel source, while the oxygen gas is released.

“As Wu explained, he and his team used the same idea to design their artificial leaf, which relies on a very similar process but produces different end products.”

While the leaves we see on plants produce glucose and oxygen, the artificial leaf produces methanol and oxygen, according to Wu. And the key to the process he and his team have developed is cuprous oxide, which is an inexpensive red powder chemically engineered to have as many eight-sided particles as possible:

“This powder is created by a chemical reaction when glucose, copper acetate, sodium hydroxide, and sodium dodecyl sulfate are added to water that has been heated to a specified temperature.

“(The) powder is then added to water where it serves as the catalyst as carbon dioxide is pumped in and a solar simulator shines a beam of white light into the solution.”

The artificial leaf, it should be noted, is 10 times more efficient than photosynthesis in a plant.

Wu’s process of converting CO2 to clean energy is incredibly promising for two main reasons:

  • First, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (which is the main contributor to global climate change) helps to reduce the dangers of climate change.
  • Secondly, the alternative fuels produced by artificial leaves will make it possible for people to continue driving non-electric vehicles while society makes a full transition to carbon-neutral transportation sources.

In time, the methanol produced by the artificial leaves can also be used for industrial purposes, leading Dr. Wu to remark:

“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 CO2 emissions while also creating an alternative fuel.”

Reducing carbon dioxide, fighting climate change, and producing clean energy. No matter how you look at it, artificial leaves may wind up being one of the greatest inventions of the 21st century.


Featured Image Via Silk Leaf



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Andrew Bradford

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