Scientists develop ‘artificial leaf’ that could power the cars of the future


Siôn Geschwindt
2023-05-24 09:24:28

Researchers from the University of Cambridge have developed an ‘artificial leaf’ that uses sunlight to convert water and carbon dioxide into ethanol and propanol. 

These so-called ‘drop-in’ fuels can directly power an internal combustion engine without any modifications, potentially offering a low-emissions alternative to gasoline. 

Unlike fossil fuels, these solar fuels produce net-zero carbon emissions, said the researchers, and are entirely renewable. What’s more, unlike most bioethanol, they do not divert any agricultural land away from food production.   

Researchers made the artificial leaf from multiple layers including copper, glass, silver, and graphite. The leaf contains light absorbers – similar to the molecules in plants that harvest sunlight – which are combined with a catalyst.

This catalyst, which is similar to chlorophyll, the catalyst for photosynthesis in a real leaf, is made from two elements — copper and palladium. In the presence of sunlight, the catalyst converts CO2 to ethanol and propanol, and the water into oxygen.