Scientists have found a way to turn carbon dioxide into fuel

A team of researchers have developed a 'solar leaf' that turns CO2 into energy

Scientists have found a way to turn carbon dioxide into fuel

Picture by: Ben Birchall / PA Wire/Press Association Images

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago said that they have found a way to successfully turn carbon dioxide into a usable fuel source.

The team behind the breakthrough created an artificial 'solar leaf' which mimics a plant's ability to inhale carbon dioxide (CO2) and, with water, convert it into glucose and oxygen.

Unlike conventional solar cells, which convert sunlight into electricity that must be stored in heavy batteries, the new device does the work of plants and converts atmospheric carbon dioxide into fuel, solving two crucial problems at once.

While plants produce fuel in the form of sugar, the artificial leaf delivers syngas - a mixture of hydrogen gas and carbon monoxide. Syngas can be burned directly, or converted into diesel or other hydrocarbon fuels.

Essentially this technology can convert CO2 to energy using just sunlight and water and could potentially be used to power vehicles, devices and even households.

The scientists say that a solar farm using these artificial leaves would be able to remove a significant amount of carbon from the atmosphere and use that carbon to produce an energy-dense fuel efficiently.

Amin Salehi-Khojin, senior author of the study said:

"Instead of producing energy in an unsustainable one-way route from fossil fuels to greenhouse gas, we can now reverse the process and recycle atmospheric carbon into fuel using sunlight."

He said that while the invention still releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, it would still greatly reduce the amount currently being produced by tradition fossil fuels.