November 20, 2019

Researchers at the University of Waterloo (UW) took more than four years to come up with a new strategy to combat climate change through the creation of an “artificial leaf,” led by Yimin Wu, an engineer professor at UW. 

“This artificial leaf is made up of cuprous oxide, containing two inexpensive elements: copper and oxygen. When sunlight, carbon dioxide and water is input to an artificial leaf, it will produce methanol and oxygen as products,” explained Wu via email.

Despite the name, this innovation doesn’t look anything like a leaf. The invention is based around a chemical reaction producing a red powder substance. 

“We call it an artificial leaf because it mimics real leaves and the process of photosynthesis,” said Wu, in a press release. 

Photosynthesis is the process by which green plants and some other organisms use sunlight to synthesize energy from carbon dioxide and water. 

The leaf could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and transforming it into a new energy source: methanol. 

“Making methanol from carbon dioxide, the primary contributor to global warming, would both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide a substitute for the fossil fuels that create them,” Wu said.

He said the leaf can reduce emissions in sectors like the automobile industry, steel industry, and oil drilling industry. 

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