Sustainability : Artificial Leaf Makes Petrol Alternative

University of Cambridge researchers have developed an ‘artificial leaf’ that uses sunlight to convert water and carbon dioxide into ethanol and propanol that could be used as a low-emissions petrol alternative to power car engines.

Inspired By Photosynthesis 

The ‘leaf,’ made from thin-film metal oxides and materials known as perovskites and including multiple layers including copper, glass, silver, and graphite, was made as part of University of Cambridge researchers’ experiments designed to produce ultra-thin, flexible devices, which take their inspiration from photosynthesis.


Although renewable technologies (e.g. wind and solar) have become cheaper and more available in recent years, other industries such as global shipping using fossil fuel powered vessels have not made much progress in decarbonisation. For, example, global shipping produces three per cent of the world’s CO2 emissions. The Cambridge researcher group, led by Professor Erwin Reisner has therefore been working to tackle this challenge by developing sustainable solutions to petrol which are based on the principles of photosynthesis.

Floating Artificial Leaves 

The idea with the leaf design was to create a low-cost, autonomous device that’s light enough to float on water and which could be used to generate a sustainable alternative to petrol without taking up space on land.

The thin leaf is coated onto flexible plastic and metal foils and covered with micrometre thin, water-repellent carbon-based layers that prevent moisture degradation.


Tests of the artificial leaves have taken place in Cambridge on the River Cam, near the iconic the Bridge of Sighs, the Wren Library and King’s College Chapel. The latest leaf design, which can split water into hydrogen and oxygen (or reduce CO2 to syngas) has been shown to convert sunlight into fuels as efficiently as plant leaves.

Like Solar Farms But For Fuel Synthesis 

Cambridge researchers Dr Virgil Andrei says: “Solar farms have become popular for electricity production; we envision similar farms for fuel synthesis,” and “these could supply coastal settlements, remote islands, cover industrial ponds, or avoid water evaporation from irrigation canals.”

Professor Reisner also highlighted another beneficial aspect of the leaf design saying, “In theory, you could roll up these devices and put them almost anywhere, in almost any country, which would also help with energy security.” 

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

The floating fuel synthesis leaf design is an early step towards the automation and up-scaling of solar fuel production and could help industries that have struggled to decarbonise (such as global shipping) to find a simple way to do so. The fact that the ‘leaves’ can simply be rolled-up to be moved to where they’re needed and floated on water (i.e. not taking up space on land) give the design real flexibility in where and how they could be used. For example, as highlighted by the researchers, the leaves could be used to supply coastal settlements, remote islands, cover industrial ponds, or even be used to avoid water evaporation from irrigation canals. The leaves could, therefore, benefit whole industries, businesses, and individuals wherever there’s an expanse of water (which accounts for most of the earth’s surface) and, if scaled up, offer a real a sustainable and low-carbon alternative to petrol.

Sustainability : Low-Cost Underground Heating For 4,000 Cornish Homes

£22 million of the UK government’s £91 million Green Heat Network Fund will be used to build a geothermal heating network that could provide low-cost heating for nearly 4,000 homes in Cornwall.

Drilling Near Truro 

The government-funded project by Geothermal Engineering Ltd (GEL), “The Langarth,” at Langarth Garden Village (near Truro), Cornwall, will involves drilling to a depth of more than 5,000 metres to extract heat from granite rocks. This heat will then be piped up to the surface to nearby homes.

The Benefits

The main benefits of the scheme are that is uses renewable heat from natural, sustainable resources, saving 5,000 tonnes per year of CO2, proving low-cost heat, and keeping the benefits of the heating scheme in the immediate area surrounding it.

Ryan Law, CEO of GEL, said about the project: “We use almost 50% of all energy in the UK for heating, yet most of this is currently gas. The potential of geothermal resources to produce renewable heat from our natural resources will play a large part of decarbonising this form of energy over the next decade. The great thing about a deep geothermal plant is that the heat will always benefit the immediate area surrounding it as it cannot be exported to a ‘grid.’ Langarth will be an excellent example of a local community directly benefiting from having a geothermal initiative nearby.”   


The project, first envisioned in 2009 is still awaiting the design for a ‘Binary’ power plant (work due to start this year) although two directional wells have already been drilled; the production well to a depth of 5275m and the injection well to 2393m.

Other Similar Schemes 

Other similar Deep Geothermal Heat Networks in the UK include:

– The Goole Green Heat Network (£12 million of the government’s £91 million funding), which will (when operational in 2024) extract waste heat from a nearby manufacturing plant and pump it to residents and businesses in the area. The East Yorkshire project is intended enable nearby homes to ditch oil and gas in favour of cleaner, cheaper energy.

– The expansion of a heat network in East London to supply heating to 2 new developments in and around the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The project will serve around 500 new homes and 250 non-domestic premises with low-cost heating.

The UK government says that it is currently funding 7 innovative projects with its Green Heat Network Fund.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

For organisations and businesses, the Cornwall geothermal heating network and similar projects offer numerous advantages. By transitioning to sustainable heating solutions, businesses can contribute to their environmental goals and reduce their carbon footprint. Additionally, low-cost heat provided by these networks can lead to significant cost savings for businesses in the long run, improving their bottom line.

Investing in sustainable energy solutions also enhances a business’s reputation and demonstrates its commitment to corporate social responsibility. Customers and stakeholders increasingly value sustainability and aligning with green initiatives can attract environmentally conscious consumers, boost brand image, and create a competitive edge in the market.

The development of the geothermal heating network in Cornwall and other similar projects funded by the UK government’s Green Heat Network Fund present compelling benefits for businesses, particularly in the energy industry. The utilisation of renewable heat from natural resources, the reduction in carbon emissions, and the localised nature of these schemes all contribute to a more sustainable and resilient future. Embracing these opportunities enables businesses and organisations to align with environmental goals, realise cost savings, enhance their reputation, and position themselves at the forefront of the transition to a greener economy.

Sustainability-in-Tech : Solar-Powered Aquatic Drone Purges Plastic In Waterways

The WasteShark solar powered aquatic drone from Dutch company RanMarine removes floating pollution like plastics, algae and biomass from lakes, ponds, waterways, and harbours.

The WasteShark 

The WasteShark is a mini water robot that floats, navigates autonomously, and scours the surface of the water for plastic waste and other pollution. The WasteShark then collects the waste it in its ‘open mouth’ and brings it to the shore.

It’s been described as operating like “a small autonomous vacuum cleaner” that cleans the water constantly and uses sensors and cameras that allow it to navigate waterways, detect pollutants, and avoid obstacles.

Also Collects Data 

The WasteShark water drone is also able to collect data on water quality at the same time e.g., it can monitor whether outboard water is suitable for swimming.

The Advantages 

The advantages of the WasteShark are that it is emission-free, doesn’t result in any other pollution in the water, produces no noise or light pollution, is easy to deploy, collects waste in a simple and manageable way, and can be transported in the boot of a (fairly large) car. The WasteShark can also collect up to 500 kg of plastic and pollutants per day (the collected plastic is recycled).

The WasteShark, therefore, makes the collection of waste and pollution in water more efficient, less costly, and ultimately less harmful than current methods used.

Control and Range 

The WasteShark is controlled via 4G, has a range of 3 kilometres, reaches a speed of 3 kilometres per hour, and can swim around autonomously for about 6 hours.


The first prototype was built and tested in Cape Town, South Africa. Since 2016 WasteShark drones now operate in the EU, Ireland, the UK, South Korea, India, Australia, and the USA amongst others.

Now In London 

In March, RanMarine announced that it had teamed up with the Canary Wharf Group (CWG), Britvic, and Aqua Libra to launch the first WasteShark into the Middle Dock at Canary Wharf in London.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

Pollution of waterways, particularly plastic, is a big problem globally, and there are now many innovative new ways to tackle it. The simplicity, autonomous nature, and emission-free operation of the WasteShark mean that it appears to be a more efficient, less costly, and less harmful than current methods way of tackling water pollution, albeit on a small scale. It also offers the added benefit of collecting data on water quality while it cleans, giving it an extra environmentally friendly dimension. For a relatively small water drone it can collect a lot of waste to recycle and the fact that it goes about its business autonomously is convenient and requires no extra labour resources. Although one of many different solutions to the plastic pollution problem, the fact that it is already being used in many countries shows that it has real-world value.

Sustainability-in-Tech : Green Code To Reduce Software Emissions

Cloud-based CRM company Salesforce has announced the launch of its ‘Green Code,’ a new initiative which it says will help reduce carbon emissions associated with the software development lifecycle.

The Software Development Lifecycle Carbon Emissions Problem 

The Green Code has been developed to tackle the environmental impact caused by the process of developing, deploying, and maintaining software applications. For example, this impact comes from the energy consumption of the servers and other computing equipment used during these activities, as well as from the manufacturing and disposal of this equipment. Software development involves a range of activities, including designing, coding, testing, and deployment and each of these stages requires computing power and energy, which can result in significant carbon emissions e.g., running servers and data centres requires large amounts of electricity, which in turn generates greenhouse gas emissions, and disposing of e-waste can require carbon-emitting requires energy and resources as well as contributing to environmental pollution and health hazards.

The IT Sector Emissions 

As highlighted by Salesforce, the IT sector is responsible for up to 3.9 per cent of global emissions (almost as much as the airline and shipping industries) with these emissions expected to rise as organisations increasingly rely on software to drive their operations and accelerate their digital transformation.

Salesforce’s own research shows that although the IT sector is a major carbon producer,75 per cent of technologists want to develop software applications that do less harm to the environment, but nearly half simply don’t know how.

What Is The Green Code? 

The Green Code initiative is a set of new sustainability best practices to help anyone from UX designers and software developers to system architects and IT operations managers to work towards net zero. The idea is that offering practical recommendations for designing apps and writing code that have less of an impact on the environment is a powerful leverage point that remains largely untapped and could help make a significant impact toward decarbonisation.

Four Key Areas

The Green Code focuses on the four key areas of:

– Design & UX: Helping designers to reduce energy use while providing a better user experience by making sustainability a design requirement.

– Architecture: Helping software architects to choose an architectural pattern and deployment model for software development that leads to cost savings and reduces environmental impact.

– Development: Helping to develop sustainable code I.e., software code that uses less energy, leading to significant emissions reductions, particularly when deployed at scale.

– Operations: Focusing on e.g., locating capacity in the right regions and scheduling workloads during high renewable energy periods can help companies can reduce their carbon emissions.

The Importance Of Leveraging Green Code Best Practices 

Suzanne DiBianca, EVP, and Chief Impact Officer at Salesforce points out that, “By leveraging these ‘green code’ best practices, technologists and organisations can approach the challenge of sustainability in IT to drive meaningful efficiencies and cost savings across their IT enterprises while accelerating their sustainability journeys.” 

Srinivas Tallapragada, President, and Chief Engineering Officer at Salesforce said, “With Green Code, we’re hoping to inspire software teams and the entire IT sector to prioritise sustainability, just as they do performance, security, and accessibility.” 

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

Salesforce makes the point that minor changes can translate into big impacts for a company’s carbon footprint and that it looks, from their research, as though most technologists want to develop software applications that do less harm to the environment, but they lack any guidance on how to do so. Producing these ‘Green Code’ best practices, therefore, is a way to help make a positive difference in what has thus far been a relatively untapped and overlooked but crucial area. For businesses and organisations in the IT sector, following these best practices could help them on the road to sustainability and if widely adopted could be one way to help the IT sector to become less of a carbon emissions producer.