Illustration by John Kenzie
Illustration: John Kenzie

Here comes the sun.

Sunlight hits a solar cell on the artificial leaf and energizes two catalysts—tungsten diselenide and cobalt—to create chemical reactions.

There goes the CO2.

Carbon dioxide and water molecules from the atmosphere break down and mix. The pieces are recycled into synthesis gas. (Read: photosynthesis!)

See ya, fossil fuels.

The gas can be burned for energy or transformed into natural gas or diesel. Picture one continuous loop with no climate-ravaging byproducts.

Now what?

Engineers have a five-year plan to install farms full of these faux leaves next to power plants—major sources of harmful CO2 emissions. “In the long term,” says Amin Salehi-Khojin, assistant professor of engineering at UIC and one of the leaf’s creators, “it’s going to be great for the energy needs of society.”