(TMU) — Researchers claim they have made a breakthrough in converting carbon dioxide into liquid fuel using sunlight.
The new technology is inexpensive and scientists say it mimics the way in which plants use photosynthesis, which is why it has been dubbed the “artificial leaf.”
Scientists hope that the artificial leaf can help in the fight against global warming. Carbon dioxide emissions have wreaked havoc on the planet in recent years, as evidenced by erratic weather patterns and climate shifts that are sweeping a growing number of regions toward unlivable conditions.
With the help of a cheap red powder called cuprous oxide—which is found in abundance in nature—the artificial leaf turns carbon dioxide into methanol and oxygen, which can then be used as fuel once the water in the solution evaporates, according to a paper published in Nature Energy.
In an interview with the Canadian Press, lead researcher and University of Waterloo engineering professor Yimin Wu said:
“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.”
Wu also told the Independent:
“This technology has achieved the solar to fuel efficiency about 10 per cent. This is already larger than the natural photosynthesis (about one per cent).
The next step is to partner with industry companies to scale it up with a system engineering of flow cell for the production of liquid fuels. More efficient artificial leaves can be developed along the lines with industry partners.”
“We call it an artificial leaf because it mimics real leaves and the process of photosynthesis,” said Yimin Wu, @UWaterloo professor in @WaterlooENG who led the research on tech which converts harmful carbon dioxide into an alternative fuel. #UWaterlooNews https://t.co/Oey8BmB0m1 pic.twitter.com/jBYWGfbGEO
— UWaterloo News (@UWaterlooNews) November 4, 2019
However, it could take several years before the process is commercialized. At that point, Wu believes that oil, steel, and automotive companies will take advantage of the technology to help reduce their carbon emissions.
The power is generated by a chemical reaction involving glucose, copper acetate, sodium hydroxide, and sodium dodecyl sulfate—all of which are added to water. The water is then heated to a specific temperature which starts the reaction before carbon dioxide is blown through it and a white light beam is shone through the water.
Researchers hope to increase the amount of ethanol produced by the process before the technology is introduced on a larger scale.
The professor said:
“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.”
Wu has been working on the method since 2015, with the bulk of his research conducted while working at a federal laboratory in Illinois with the U.S. Department of Energy.
The new research is the latest in a series of techniques devised to convert CO2 emissions back into a usable fuel. Scientists hope that such discoveries can help in the fight against rising greenhouse gas levels and finally tip the balance toward attaining negative carbon emissions in human society and industry.
In a University of Waterloo press release, Wu added:
“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.”