The development of green sustainable energy to control our carbon-based energy “addiction” and to reduce atmospheric CO2 emissions is one of the most urgent issues regarding the continued existence of man on planet earth. Among renewable energy resources, solar energy is by far the largest exploitable resource. Photosynthesis provides a blueprint for solar energy conversion and storage in fuels. Natural green leaves capture and convert solar energy into chemical fuel through photosynthesis. The two reactions are the splitting of water into hydrogen and oxygen (water splitting) and the reduction of CO2 into carbohydrates (CO2 reduction). Inspired by natural leaves, constructing artificial leaves by mimicking photosynthesis to capture solar energy, split water into hydrogen and oxygen, and convert atmospheric carbon dioxide, thus producing various forms of environmentally clean fuels, is of high significance. Many major advances in this research area are highlighted in this Minireview. Some typical successful prototypes from natural systems that can be used for the biomimetic design of artificial leaves are particularly emphasized.
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