Torres del Paine National Park

An Artificial Leaf to produce Liquid Fuel

This new carbon neutral technology developed by the University of Cambridge, will allow to replace fossil fuels by eco-friendly energy.


April, 2020.- 
Artificial leaf created to produce eco-friendly fuel.
Artificial  leaf
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Let us imagine for a moment the possibility of taking advantage of the energy mechanisms of plants to synthesize chemical products without contaminating residues. In other words, by means of an equivalent to photosynthesis, fuels could be produced without contaminating the environment in the process. All this, simply by resorting to sunlight and a catalyst. 

That is the technological project of Professor Erwin Meisner, belonging to the chemistry department of the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom. Meisner and his team were inspired by photosynthesis to create a new type of artificial leaf capable of producing syngas, a type of synthetic gas. Unlike other processes, this innovative technology does not generate carbon dioxide or other waste. The results of the research, which has required seven years of work, have just been published by the scientific journal Nature Materials.

The specific process for the generation of syngas, used as fuel and in the production of drugs, plastics and fertilizers, is relatively simple. The main ingredient, as with photosynthesis, is sunlight, although the technology also works on little sunny days, even cloudy and rainy days.  

The "leaf" incorporates two light absorbing elements along with a cobalt-based catalyst, an element abundant in nature and cheaper than commonly used precious metals such as platinum or silver. On the other hand, the light absorption elements use Perovskite, which generate a powerful electric current. Once the device is immersed in water, the first element generates oxygen in combination with cobalt, while the other element reduces carbon dioxide and water to carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The three elements combined are the basis for the production of syngas.

Eco-friendly artificial fuel.
According to the developers of this "synthetic leaf", the previous versions, created by other researchers only produced hydrogen. Now, this new technology opens the door to a new sustainable energy production. In a way, the syngas production method devised by Cambrigde's engineers is another form of solar energy. The only difference is that instead of producing electricity, the resulting energy is in the form of fuel. Since syngas is just the basis for producing liquid fuels, the next step for the Meisner team will be to create the fuel directly from water and carbon dioxide.

A complement to electric motors 

Syngas (synthetic gas), new artificial fuel.
Although the electrification of the car park is unstoppable, heavy transport vehicles are still far from joining the revolution. Electric motors continue to be inefficient in the case of ships and planes. The solution is to start using liquefied gas or sustainable synthetic liquid fuels, capable of feeding explosion engines and turbines without emitting greenhouse gases or toxic particles.  
Another advantage in the production of synthetic fuel is that carbon dioxide is employed for its production. Technically, some mechanisms could be used to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or from factory emissions for use in fuel production.