Researchers from the University of Cambridge have developed floating ‘artificial leaves’ that generate clean fuels from sunlight and water, and could eventually operate on a large scale at sea.
he researchers designed ultra-thin, flexible devices, which take their inspiration from photosynthesis – the process by which plants convert sunlight into food.
Since the low-cost, autonomous devices are light enough to float, they could be used to generate a sustainable alternative to petrol without taking up space on land.
Outdoor tests of the lightweight leaves on the River Cam – near iconic Cambridge sites including the Bridge of Sighs, the Wren Library and King’s College Chapel – showed that they can convert sunlight into fuels as efficiently as plant leaves.
This is the first time that clean fuel has been generated on water, and if scaled up, the artificial leaves could be used on polluted waterways, in ports or even at sea, and could help reduce the global shipping industry’s reliance on fossil fuels.
The results are reported in the journal Nature.