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Turning Over New Leaf in Climate Change

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource Center page and our Organic Transitions page.

In a tidy white lab on the southern edge of Berkeley, scientists are trying to duplicate one of nature's greatest tricks, pulling energy out of thin air.

They're designing artificial leaves that can convert sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into chemical fuel, much like the photosynthesis of flowers and trees.

The team has already built a crude prototype from silicon, polymers and platinum that can create a simple and clean hydrogen fuel. If the scientists figure out how to cheaply produce more complicated energy sources, it would enable mass production of "drop-in" fuels that could power automobiles, trucks, planes and ships without pumping more greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.

In other words, it could provide a viable alternative to digging up more petroleum, coal and other traditional energy sources widely blamed for global warming.

"We have no other option than getting off fossil fuels," said Heinz Frei, acting director of the lab, the north site of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis. "The research into artificial photosynthesis provides society with an option."

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