The Cambridge scientists succeeded in modifying the leaf using two perovskite light absorbers combined with a cobalt catalyst, which can produce oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon monoxide, needed to make syngas or synthetic gas. Syngas is a key ingredient in plastics, fertilizers, and fuels such as diesel.
The drawback of the previous artificial sheet was its weight, as it was constructed of bulky materials, which did not allow it to float.
The new, improved version has light-absorbing layers of perovskite on thin, flexible layers of polyester, coated with indium oxide and tin, and as a catalyst, platinum, all these components are coated with a thin, water-repellent carbon-based material. What was obtained, a sheet capable of floating, which can split water into hydrogen and oxygen in addition to producing the synthetic gas.
“Artificial sheets could substantially reduce the cost of sustainable fuel production, but because they are heavy and fragile, they are difficult to produce at scale and transport,” explains Dr. Virgil Andrei of Cambridge’s Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry, a co-author of the paper.
“We wanted to see how far we could reduce the materials these devices use without affecting their performance,” explains Professor Erwin Reisner, who led the research. “If we can reduce the materials enough to make them light enough to float, then it opens up new ways of using these artificial leaves.”
Another attractive factor of this new version is the improvement in production - it is possible to create sheets of various sizes, from 1.7 cm2 to 100 cm2, which means that they can be used to generate clean fuels from anywhere there is water, even from the sea.
This program was supported by several institutions and organizations, including European Research Council, Cambridge Trust, Winton Programme for the Physics of Sustainability, Royal Academy of Engineering and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
As Reisner commented, “In theory, you could roll these devices up and place them almost anywhere, in almost any country, which would also help with energy security.”
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27 de Septiembre, 2022