A newly constructed clean energy fuel alternative mimics the efficiency and production of regular gasoline, but here’s the best part–it's created by the sun. A team of scientists from the University of Cambridge have developed a mechanism that transforms carbon dioxide and water into viable liquid fuel. The process of photosynthesis is the basis of yet another experiment and another clean energy alternative–the team harnesses the CO2, water, and sunlight produced in photosynthesis and transmutes them into multi-carbon fuels such as ethanol and propanol. The major upside to these alternatives besides reducing carbon emissions is that the structural makeup is characterized as a high density energy, and is easy to store and transport.

For many years the research team has tried various different options to create an eco-friendly, zero-carbon fuel alternative. Landing on the process of photosynthesis to generate their new project, lead researcher Professor Erwin Reisner believes biofuels are a controversial technology but if mastered correctly, could be monumental. The team stuck to it and created what is called a synthetic leaf–a device that is crafted to mimic the process of photosynthesis typically generating simple compounds such as syngas. This device was upgraded to withhold more complex chemicals all within a single step process powered by solar energy. 

In this advancement, their device can now directly generate clean ethanol and propanol, removing the step phase of syngas production. To allow the process to occur without error, the team created a catalyst add-on made from copper and palladium to be attached to the synthetic leaf. This allows for the device to take in and manufacture more complex chemicals. Many chemical alternatives made from electrical power have been produced over the last decade but this project marks the first of its kind! 

Today, society knows fossil fuels are the killer of the environment, stripping away protective layers of the atmosphere, contaminating our waters, soils, and bodies...slowly breaking down the Earth. The creation of these fuel alternatives can be revolutionary for the automobile industry. Swapping out gasoline or even diesel fuels for these would have a transformative impact on our planet. And contrary to these fossil fuels, the newly crafted alternatives are zero carbon emissions and are 100% renewable. Bioethanol is seen as an eco-friendly alternative to standard ethanol, which makes up 10% of the fuel content in today’s vehicles. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 45% of corn grown in the U.S. is used for bioethanol production–the plant-based derived alternative is being molded and crafted into a functional and accessible alternative. 

As of right now, the device only holds as a prototype and functions at only a few degrees of efficiency, but the team is working to improve this device. Enhancing light absorbers, and refining the catalyst to increase transformation capacity are the two main developmental focuses. They also have to find a way to enhance its quantity production so it's able to generate large amounts of the fuel alternative at a time.  

“Even though there’s still work to be done, we’ve shown what these artificial leaves are capable of doing. It’s important to show that we can go beyond the simplest molecules and make things that are directly useful as we transition away from fossil fuels,” stated Reisner.