A new device that effectively mimics the natural process of photosynthesis would represent a breakthrough for researchers engaged in clean energy production, and a team from the University of Cambridge has been at the forefront of these technologies for much of the past. decade.

Their latest development is a cordless sheet filled with photocatalysts capable of converting sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into clean fuels, and the team hopes to someday use the device as part of gigantic power farms.

The research was carried out by a group working under the leadership of Professor Erwin Reisner in the university’s chemistry department, which has made a number of promising advances in energy research over the past decade. In 2013 he demonstrated how hydrogen can be produced using cobalt as a cheap catalyst, and in 2017 he demonstrated how gas can be made using biomass as a starting point.

More recently, we observed an artificial leaf developed by the group, which, like natural leaves, converts sunlight and water into fuel, in this case synthetic gas made from carbon monoxide and hydrogen. This device captured sunlight through perovskite light collectors, a component of some solar cells, but the team has now made some adjustments to its design. Instead of perovskite light collectors, the new platform is based on new photocatalysts embedded in a sheet of semiconductor powders, which can be produced easily and at low cost.

The 20cm2 sheet developed as a prototype was used to convert sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and formic acid, which can be easily stored for direct use as fuel or later used as building block of hydrogen.

According to the team, this method is a completely new way to convert carbon dioxide into clean fuels, and one that could easily be scaled up. Scientists say it should be relatively straightforward to produce versions that span several meters and imagine such devices forming large bays as part of clean-energy installations, much like solar farms.

We were surprised at how well it worked. Sometimes things don’t work as well as expected, but this was a rare case where it did work better.

Dr Qian Wang.

The team is working to improve the efficiency of the device by testing different catalysts, which can also allow it to produce different types of solar fuels.

We hope that this technology will pave the way for a sustainable and convenient production of solar fuel.

Erwin Reisner.

More information: www.nature.com

Via www.cam.ac.uk