Plants use sunlight to turn carbon dioxide and water into glucose. In the same way, artificial leaves use the sun's energy to turn carbon dioxide and water into hydrocarbon fuels. Using sunlight to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, scientists have developed a catalyst called'nanoflake tungsten diselenide'. This catalyst converts carbon monoxide in a leaf at greatly improved efficiency compared with conventional metal catalysts. When combined with the hydrogen the carbon monoxide produces a fuel called syngas that can then be used as the basis of hydrocarbons.
In an industrial greenhouse about 30km from Zurich, plump aubergines and juicy cherry tomatoes are ripening to perfection. Growing Mediterranean crops in Switzerland would traditionally be energy intensive but these vegetables are very nearly carbon-neutral. The greenhouse uses waste energy from a nearby refuse plant, and carbon dioxide from the world's first commercial direct air capture plant. The facility, designed by Zurich-based start-up Climeworks, pumps the gas into greenhouses to boost the plants' photosynthesis and increase their yield, it hopes, by up to 20%. Climeworks says it will extract around 900 tonnes of CO2 a year from the air.
A new'green revolution' could be brought about by a radical new leaf which builds on nature - and surpasses it. The bionic leaf is an artificial system that mimics the process of photosynthesis -which is used by plants to produce fuel - to create fertiliser. The device could one day be used to help boost crop yields in developing countries and help tackle world hunger. Harvard University has created a bionic leaf that produces fertiliser using only bacteria, sunlight, water and air. The radishes on the right were grown with the help of the fertiliser and are 1.5 times larger than their natural counterparts (pictured left) This device is based on an artificial leaf developed by a leading researcher in biochemistry, Dr Daniel Nocera.
A team of scientists at Harvard University says it has come up with a bionic leaf -- a system that could use solar power and hydrogen-eating bacteria to generate liquid fuel. The findings, described in the journal Science, offer an alternative path to making carbon-neutral solar fuels. Part microbe and part machine, the bionic leaf marks a tenfold improvement on the researchers' previous version and could be used to generate all kinds of products, from the precursors for bioplastics to fuel. "This work is quite significant. "In addition, being able to do this at low pressures and at high oxygen concentrations represents another major advancement."
When I visited Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in March, Frances Houle, the deputy director of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, showed off one of the center's latest advances. It is a device that breaks down water into hydrogen and oxygen in sunlight. The lab's researchers had previously used artificial light to drive the process; this was the first time they were doing it with natural light. Fixed to a thin metal stand on the roof of the center's building above Berkeley, with a spectacular view west across San Francisco Bay, the small device has a solar cell that supplies the energy needed for a chemical catalyst to split the water. Created in 2010 under Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, the center, commonly called JCAP, has an audacious goal: to create fuels using only sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water (see "Artificial Photosynthesis Effort Takes Root").