Scientists have created an “artificial leaf” that could turn carbon dioxide into fuel.
The new technology is inspired by the way plants use photosynthesis to turn carbon dioxide into glucose and oxygen. The artificial leaf mimics this process with the help of a cheap red powder called a cuprous oxide and produces methanol and oxygen.
The methanol can be collected and used as fuel by heating the solution so the water evaporates.
It may be a colourless, odourless and completely natural gas, but carbon dioxide is beginning to cause us a lot of problems. It only makes up a tiny fraction of the atmosphere, but it has a huge effect on the Earth’s temperature. That’s because, unlike nitrogen or oxygen, carbon dioxide molecules absorb the Sun’s heat rays even though they let light rays pass through, like a greenhouse.
Scientists are looking at ways to modulate the global temperature by removing some of this greenhouse gas from the air. If it works, it would be one of the few ways of geoengineering the planet with multiple benefits, beyond simply cooling the atmosphere.
Hence, the idea of finding ways of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. We can also participate in this process, one way to do this is to grow plants that absorb a lot of carbon dioxide and store it. But although we can certainly improve tree-planting, we also need land to grow food for an increasing global population, so there’s a limit to how much forestry we can fit on the planet.
This innovation represents a fresh start, with humanity perhaps showing signs it can turn over a fresh leaf and make the world a better place for everyone.