Scientists Create Artificial Leaf To Help Combat Climate Change

As their newest attempt to help battle the increasing effects of climate change, scientists have recently created an “artificial leaf,” made to inexpensively convert harmful carbon dioxide (which traps heat and causes global warming) into alternative fuel that’s both cheap and useful.

Outlined in a paper published Tuesday in the scientific journal Nature Energy, the scientists behind the new technology said that they were inspired by how plants convert the carbon dioxide they absorb into food by using the energy they gain from photosynthesis. This then gave them an idea, which led to the creation of the artificial leaf.

"We call it an artificial leaf because it mimics real leaves and the process of photosynthesis," Yimin Wu, an engineering professor at the University of Waterloo, who led the research, said. "A leaf produces glucose and oxygen. We produce methanol and oxygen."

According to them, turning carbon dioxide into methanol would do two useful things: reduce greenhouse gasses that are enveloping our atmosphere, and create an alternative for fossil fuels, which are also used to create them. This essentially, hits two birds with one stone.

Per the scientists, the key to this new technology is called cuprous oxide, which is an optimized red powder engineered to have as many eight-sided particles as possible. The powder is created by adding water to four substances - glucose, copper acetate, sodium hydroxide and sodium dodecyl sulfate – and heating them to a particular temperature.

From this, methanol is collected after a reaction that produces oxygen (similar to photosynthesis) while also converting carbon into the water-based solution. Per the researchers, the next step in the research include increasing the methanol yield, and commercializing the process to make it even more accessible for other people, while also converting the carbon made from greenhouse gas sources.

"This is the chemical reaction that we discovered. Nobody has done this before. 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,” Wu, who has been working on the project since 2015, added.

leaf Researchers from the Netherlands created artificial leaves that use energy from the sun to produce medicines for humans. Pixabay