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Artificial Leaf can be a Petrol Replacement
(Photo : Photo by Alec Favale on Unsplash)

Another breakthrough in sciences has been introduced recently. Just this week, an artificial leaf can be used for the creation of a commonly utilized flammable gas from only sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide (CO2). Presently, the gas called 'syngas' or 'synthetic' gas is created through the consumption of fossil fuels.

Currently, in its developing phase, this leaf imitates photosynthesis, the process which plants employ to collect energy. Nevertheless, the carbon-neutral solution which the scientists devised could be eventually used for the development of sustainable liquid energy, serving as a petrol replacement. Erwin Reisner, a chemist at the University of Cambridge and colleagues, managed to ensure that the artificial leaf does not release any CO2 into the air. 

How it Works

The artificial leaf is a silicon-based device utilizing solar energy to separate oxygen and hydrogen in water, thus emitting hydrogen energy in a clean manner, leaving almost no pollutants at all. The artificial leaf's basic component is a silicon chip coated in chemical substances, speeding up the process of water splitting. 

In an open container of water, when the solar energy starts hitting the chip, a chemical reaction like photosynthesis takes place. Following the reaction, the oxygen and hydrogen molecules are separated. This then results in the splitting of electrons and protons. 

What is 'Syngas'?

According to Professor Reisner, one may not have heard of the term 'syngas' itself. However, every day, products that were developed using it are consumed every day. The chemist adds, "Being able to develop it sustainably would be a crucial step in closing the global carbon cycle," not to mention the establishment of the sustainable fuel and chemical industry.

Syngas is emitted as a "result of gasification of a carbon-containing fuel to a gaseous product" with heating value. If this emission has nitrogen content, it must then be separated since both carbon monoxide and nitrogen have the same boiling points and therefore is difficult to recover an all-carbon monoxide through cryogenic processing.

Artificial Leaf Made Sustainably

The team of scientists developing the artificial leaf for petrol replacement said they could manage to make the device sustainable, not like the other devices used in their past studies. Fortunately, a combination of catalysts and materials were used to make the leaf a sustainable one. What makes the artificial leaf even more advantageous is that it can work on an overcast and cloudy days without its performance being compromised.

Meaning, a person is not restricted to using the technology just in countries where there is a warm atmosphere or only operating the procedure during the hot season or summer months. 

Everything needed for the artificial leaf to create 'syngas' is water, CO2, and sunlight. They're all simple, not to mention sustainable. And as mentioned, even though the leaf requires sunlight, not like most of the solar panels, it can still efficiently function even on a cloudy day.

 At present, scientists are still searching for ways to make use of their innovation to develop a sustainable liquid fuel as a petrol replacement. Currently, too, electricity can only provide satisfaction 25 percent of the demand for global energy. This is such a perfect time to create innovations like this artificial leaf.