Plants and trees play vital roles in the environment. One of these is to remove potentially dangerous gases, such as carbon dioxide, from the atmosphere and to replace them with oxygen and energy through the photosynthesis process. Plants are essential for reducing greenhouse gases, which lead to global warming. For this reason, scientists are researching how they can replicate the role of trees and plants in an attempt to fight against the rising greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere.
There have been several attempts to design products that act as artificial leaves, but not all of these have worked. Now, a new team of researchers may finally have solved the problem of how to create artificial leaves that not only work in the lab, but also in the natural environment. The team is from the University of Illinois in Chicago. Meenesh Singh, one of the researchers in the team, has explained that previous products have failed because they are not applicable to the real world. In the lab environment, they draw carbon dioxide from pressurized tanks. However, in the real world, they would need to draw the carbon dioxide from the air around them and, so far, attempts to achieve this have been unsuccessful.
The team from UIC believe that they have now resolved these issues. They have detailed their research describing the abilities of the new artificial leaves in a paper in the ‘ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering’ journal. In their proposal, they suggest filling a capsule made from a semi-permeable membrane with water and then placing the traditional artificial leaf within the capsule. When left in direct sunlight, the water will evaporate through the membrane, causing the capsule to suck in the carbon dioxide.
Once this has happened, the artificial leaf can convert carbon dioxide to oxygen and carbon monoxide. The former is either collected or released into the environment, while the latter is used to create synthetic fuels after it is siphoned from the device. In the press release, Singh described how using this system allows the artificial leaf to function outside in the same way as natural leaves. Furthermore, the researchers believe that artificial leaves are potentially better than natural leaves because the design means that the artificial leaves are capable of converting as much as ten times more carbon dioxide to fuel than their natural counterparts.
The artificial leaves each measure 0.2 meters in width and 1.7 meters long. The researchers have calculated that 360 of their artificial leaves can produce approximately half a ton of carbon monoxide per day. This could have significant implications when it comes to finding artificial methods of reducing greenhouse gas levels. There are even greater implications as this as the researchers found when using their products outdoors. They have discovered that you can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide int the air by around 10 percent each day. By spreading the leaves over an area of 500 meters square, the 10% reduction of carbon dioxide levels applies to the air within 100 meters of the space.
Singh explained in the interview that they have created the artificial leaves using only materials that are readily available. Likewise, the technology they have used is also already available. This means that everything is ready for the researchers to use to create their leaves and to use them immediately outside the lab. Therefore, these artificial leaves can potentially have an instant impact on greenhouse gas levels. However, the uses of the artificial leaves do not end at having a positive impact on the atmosphere as it is also possible to use them for creating synthetic fuels that are better for the environment than many of the alternative. This means that using artificial leaves is a very efficient process.
So far, the researchers have not revealed when they will release their design and make their products available on the market. Nor have they stated the level of interest that potential buyers have or who the groups are that are most likely to show interest in using these innovative products. However, there it is probable that there will be a huge amount of interest in using artificial leaves and creating synthetic fuels as environmental concerns are such pressing matters and people in all industries are attempting to reduce their carbon footprint.