Towards artificial leaves for solar hydrogen and fuels from carbon dioxide

  • Bensaid S
  • Centi G
  • Garrone E
 et al. 
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The development of an "artificial leaf" that collects energy in the same way as a natural one is one of the great challenges for the use of renewable energy and a sustainable development. To avoid the problem of intermittency in solar energy, it is necessary to design systems that directly capture CO(2) and convert it into liquid solar fuels that can be easily stored. However, to be advantageous over natural leaves, it is necessary that artificial leaves have a higher solar energy-to-chemical fuel conversion efficiency, directly provide fuels that can be used in power-generating devices, and finally be robust and of easy construction, for example, smart, cheap and robust. This review discusses the recent progress in this field, with particular attention to the design and development of 'artificial leaf' devices and some of their critical components. This is a very active research area with different concepts and ideas under investigation, although often the validity of the considered solutions it is still not proven or the many constrains are not fully taken into account, particularly from the perspective of system engineering, which considerably limits some of the investigated solutions. It is also shown how system design should be included, at least at a conceptual level, in the definition of the artificial leaf elements to be investigated (catalysts, electrodes, membranes, sensitizers) and that the main relevant aspects of the cell engineering (mass/charge transport, fluid dynamics, sealing, etc.) should be also considered already at the initial stage because they determine the design and the choice between different options. For this reason, attention has been given to the system-design ideas under development instead of the molecular aspects of the O(2) - or H(2) -evolution catalysts. However, some of the recent advances in these catalysts, and their use in advanced electrodes, are also reported to provide a more complete picture of the field.

Author-supplied keywords

  • artificial leaves
  • carbon dioxide
  • energy conversion
  • fuel cells
  • photosynthesis

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