Scientist Develops Artificial Leaf to Convert CO2 into Cleaner Energy

Professor Yimin Wu said his "artificial leaf" technology was about 10 times more efficient at generating energy than natural photosynthesis.

18.11.2019 | by Christy Romer
Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash
Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

Professor Yimin Wu has spent four years working on a method of converting carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary cause of global warming, into a new source of fuel.

He’s just had a breakthrough that may make this a reality sooner than first thought.

The professor of mechanical and mechatronics engineering at Waterloo University in Canada has developed what he calls an “artificial leaf” capable of turning sunlight and CO2 into oxygen and methanol.

The key is a naturally occurring powder called cuprous oxide. The powder serves as the catalyst, or trigger, for another chemical reaction—never done before—when mixed with water, CO2 and a beam of white light.

“I’m extremely excited about the potential of this discovery to change the game,” Wu said in a statement. “Climate change is an urgent problem and we can help reduce CO2 emissions while also creating an alternative fuel.”

In the future, Wu hopes to try and increase the methanol yield and commercialise the process, converting CO2 collected from power plants, vehicles and oil drilling.

The professor told The Independent he had achieved a solar to fuel efficiency of about 10 percent—which is “already larger than natural photosynthesis.”

“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.”

It will still be several years before the process is commercialised.

Wu collaborated on the research with researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, as well as scientists at California State University and the City University of Hong Kong.

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