Scientists have created an "artificial leaf" to combat climate change by cheaply converting harmful carbon dioxide (CO2) into a useful alternative fuel.
The new technology described in a document published today in the journal Nature Energy was inspired by the way plants use energy from sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into food.
"We call it an artificial leaf because it imitates a true leaf and the process of photosynthesis," says Yimin Wu, professor of engineering at the University of Waterloo who directs the research. "The leaf produces glucose and oxygen. We produce methanol and oxygen. "
Making methanol from carbon dioxide, a major contributor to global warming, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide a substitute for the fossil fuels that create them.
The key to the process is cheap, optimized red dust Oxide.
Designed to have as many more eight-sided particles are possible, the powder is created by a chemical reaction when four substances – glucose, copper acetate, sodium hydroxide and sodium dodecyl sulfate – are added to the water that has
the powder then serves as a catalyst or trigger for another chemical reaction when mixed with water that blows carbon dioxide and a beam of white light is directed by a solar simulator.
"This is the chemical reaction we found," says Wu, who has been working on the 2015 project. "
The reaction produces oxygen, as in photosynthesis, while converting carbon dioxide from the aqueous powder into methanol. The methanol is collected while evaporating when the solution is heated.
The next steps in the study include increasing the methanol yield and commercializing the patented process for converting carbon dioxide collected from major greenhouse gas sources, such as power plants, vehicles and oil.
"I am extremely excited about the potential a discovery to change the game, "says Wu, a professor of mechanical and mechatronic engineering and a member of the Waterloo Institute of Nanotechnology. "Climate change is an urgent problem and we can help reduce CO2 emissions while creating an alternative fuel."
Wu collaborates on paper, facet-dependent active sites of a Cu2O particulate photocatalyst to reduce CO2 to methanol, with Tijana Raj and other researchers at Argon National Laboratory in Illinois, as well as scientists from California State University, Northridge and Hong Kong City University.