Floating photosynthesis

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.


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Seems like a long way to go to create something that algae already does. The Salton Sea is already so polluted and the fish are dying due to increasing salinity, why not turn it into a huge algae farm, then produce oil from the algae?


why not turn it into a huge algae farm, then produce oil from the algae?

Several oil companies have looked into that, spending hundreds of millions of dollars. Exxon is the only one still trying. IIRC, one of the major problems is that algae mutate and the high producing strains are lost.


Viridos Inc., a biotech company based in La Jolla, California, that operated as the oil giant’s key technical partner since it began its algae push in 2009. With Exxon funding drying up and difficulty finding other backers, the biotech firm laid off 60% of its staff on Dec. 27, according to Viridos executives. The biotech company said it is still moving forward with algae research…

All told, the company spent more than $350 million dollars trying to develop biofuels from algae…

Dozens of companies have tried and failed. Shell, for instance, launched an algae biofuels joint venture in 2007 and then sold its stake four years later. Efforts by Chevron and BP didn’t yield big breakthroughs. Meanwhile, numerous startups, including Algenol and Sapphire Energy, pivoted away from biofuels to focus on turning algae into specialty products like cosmetics and pet-food additives.