Artificial leaf scales up for deployment

August 25, 2020 //By Peter Clarke
Improved artificial leaf a step closer to climate-saving deployment
Researchers from the University of Cambridge have created an artificial leaf could have an impact on climate change by converting carbon-dioxide and water into oxygen and formic acid.

Water is a valuable resource so efficiency of conversion remains key but the formic acid can be used as 'fuel' that can be stored, used directly or converted into hydrogen. The device, a step towards achieving artificial photosynthesis, is based on sheet technology.

The development is a refinement of a previous "artificial leaf" developed by a group under Professor Erwin Reisner at Cambridge in 2019 that uses sunlight, carbon dioxide and water to produce a fuel, known as syngas.

The latest work details a device that produces fuel using sunlight and water while producing oxygen and taking carbon-dioxide out of the atmosphere.

"It's been difficult to achieve artificial photosynthesis with a high degree of selectivity, so that you’re converting as much of the sunlight as possible into the fuel you want, rather than be left with a lot of waste,' said Qian Wang from Cambridge’s Department of Chemistry, first-named author on the latest paper. This was published in Nature Energy .

While the previous artificial leaf from the Cambridge group used solar cell components, the latest device uses colbalt-based photocatalyst embedded with semiconductor powders in sheet form that can be prepared in large quantities more easily and cost effectively.

The photosheet assembly eases scale-up of manufacturing but improvements in conversion efficiencies and stability are required to enable commercial deployment, the university said.

Reference: Qian Wang et al. ‘ Molecularly engineered photocatalyst sheet for scalable solar formate production from carbon dioxide and water .’ Nature Energy (2020). DOI: 10.1038/s41560-020-0678-6

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