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HomeMaritimeCambridge researchers develop artificial leaves as a fuel source for ships

Cambridge researchers develop artificial leaves as a fuel source for ships

At Cambridge University, researchers have developed floating artificial leaves that produce clean fuels using sunlight and water.

Researchers took inspiration for the idea from the photosynthesis process used by plants. Instead of making food, the artificial leaves produce a sustainable alternative to petrol fuel.

Outdoor tests conducted on the River Cam demonstrated that they were able to do so in a way that is just as efficient as how plants create their food.

As part of the researcher’s design, the artificial leaves are ultra-thin and flexible devices, which gives them the ability to float.

An initial design used thick glass substrates and moisture-protective coatings, which made the device heavy.

Dr Virgil Andrei from Cambridge’s Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry said the researcher’s study proved the artificial leaves could be a viable alternative source for fuel, however he added that the design had to be improved.

“Artificial leaves could substantially lower the cost of sustainable fuel production, but since they’re both heavy and fragile, they’re difficult to produce at scale and transport,” said Andrei.

The researchers came up with a new design that features thin-film metal oxides and materials called perovskites, which can be coated onto flexible plastic and metal foils. The devices were covered with micrometer thin, water-repellent carbon-based layers that prevented the devices from being degraded by moisture. The design even resembles a leaf.

Researchers are still improving the design so that it can be used on a large scale. The goal is for the artificial leaves to eventually be used for ships at sea, which would help with the decarbonization of the maritime industry.



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