Renewable fuels turn over a new artificial leaf

‘Artificial leaves’ are bringing us one step closer to cheap, renewable and commercially-viable fuels that could power your car, house or whole community, thanks to researchers at Monash University.

Professor Doug MacFarlane and his team at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science are using sun, water and CO2 to produce hydrogen and methanol fuels.

Their artificial photosynthesis takes its inspiration from the way plants convert sunlight into energy, and then recreates it in an industrial setting.

“If artificial photosynthesis can be developed that is more efficient than plant-based photosynthesis, a large fraction of our fuel needs could be supplied from these ‘solar fuel’ factories,” says Doug.

The team has created one device that uses solar energy to split water into oxygen and hydrogen. It has set a new world record for the efficiency of solar-driven fuel generating systems, with a rating of 22 per cent.

“Hydrogen can be used to generate electricity directly in fuel cells. Cars driven by fuel cell electric engines are becoming available from a number of car manufacturers,” Doug says.

“Hydrogen could even be used as an inexpensive energy storage for roof-top solar cells.”

The team has also used sunlight, CO2, graphene and water to produce methanol. With a potential energy efficiency of 30 per cent, this approach could prove at least two times more efficient than generating electricity with solar panels, which currently achieve only 10-15 per cent.

For more information:
ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science
Natalie Foxon Phillips
+61 2 4221 3239