Floating ‘artificial leaves’
Since the low-cost, autonomous devices are light enough to float, they could be used to generate a sustainable alternative to petrol without taking up space on land. Outdoor tests of the lightweight leaves on the River Cam – near iconic Cambridge sites including the Bridge of Sighs, the Wren Library and King’s College Chapel – showed that they can convert sunlight into fuels as efficiently as plant leaves.
This is the first time that clean fuel has been generated on water…and could help reduce the global shipping industry’s reliance on fossil fuels…In 2019, they developed an artificial leaf, which makes syngas – a key intermediate in the production of many chemicals and pharmaceuticals – from sunlight, carbon dioxide and water…
The challenge for the Cambridge researchers was how to deposit light absorbers onto lightweight substrates and protect them against water infiltration. To overcome these challenges, the team thin-film metal oxides and materials known as perovskites, which can be coated onto flexible plastic and metal foils. The devices were covered with micrometre thin, water-repellent carbon-based layers that prevented moisture degradation.