Rovira i Virgili University

In nature, there is often the answer to great challenges. This is confirmed by the work of numerous scientific teams. These have just been joined by experts from Rovira i Virgili University, who have developed an innovative system inspired by tree leaves that produces clean energy ten times faster than biomass.

Self-recharging batteries for mobile phones, tablets, laptops and, why not, vehicles and even homes, are among the potential future uses of this mechanism, which could have a way if it were launched on the market as substitute for small format solar batteries. At least that’s what they expect from the chemical engineering department of this university, which worked on this project under the direction of Ricard García-Valls.

But before reaching the desired goal, at the starting point, there is no more and no less than leaves of trees. And it is that in the inspiration, emulation and improvement of its own functions is the secret of the success of this system. As the the university, imitating and taking full advantage of photosynthesis, a unique prototype was designed. Although there are already approaches in this area, none had reached the speed of energy production of this system. With this, experts say, the process of capturing CO2 will be optimized and more clean energy will be obtained.

For this it was necessary to mimic the process by which trees absorb CO2. In this field, experts have fashioned a membrane based on pores of artificial leaves, where CO2 enters. Thanks to their size and some of the compounds applied, these pores are able to capture carbon dioxide molecules, as happens in nature, only better. This technology increases the accumulation capacity compared to trees between four and ten times.

An additional step in the invention, while in trees CO2 is converted into organic matter, in the designed device methanol or formic acid is obtained. With this, scientists explain, the door opens to produce clean fuel without impact on the environment and more optimally than with biomass. In fact, experts estimate that this solution is ten times better than the previous one in terms of production.

Following the discovery, prototyping of this device and its implementation, the researchers patented the advance. However, work continues, now to optimize the system and explore how much it is capable of giving.