The news on carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere is rarely good. Scientists and campaigners have warned repeatedly that governments are doing too little to bring us back from the brink and that, even if we are seeing reductions, they are nowhere near the levels required to reverse climate change.

But scientists have been working on what they say is the world’s first “biosolar leaf”, which they claim can mop up carbon dioxide and discharge oxygen into the atmosphere more efficiently than a typical tree.

According to the developers, the new technology can do the work of 100 trees using the surface area of one tree.

The invention cultivates minute plant life – microalgae and phytoplankton – on solar panel structures that can be installed on land, buildings and roofs. The developers say they can clean the air of carbon dioxide, release more oxygen into the atmosphere and grow nutritious plant protein at the same time.

The initiative, which launches on Monday, is a partnership between Imperial College, London and startup Arborea. It will be piloted at the university’s White City campus. In cities such as London it is hoped the solar panel structures can be installed on the roofs of large buildings, including warehouses, cinemas and public offices.

The founder of Arborea, Julian Melchiorri, says what is novel about the technology is that it can process carbon dioxide at extremely low pressures, where other techniques require gas compressor equipment.

Imperial College officials say the biosolar leaf system is part of its commitment to mitigate the environmental impact of its new White City campus. The campus is in the borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, which is backing the initiative.

Prof Neil Alford of Imperial College said: “Air pollution is one of London’s most urgent challenges. Through our White City masterplan we are bringing forward sustainable solutions that have the potential to improve environmental outcomes in west London, throughout the UK and across the world.”

Melchiorri said: “My goal is to tackle climate change and food security. This pilot plant will produce sustainable healthy food additives while purifying the air, producing oxygen and removing carbon dioxide from the surrounding environment.”

Steve Cowan, leader of Hammersmith and Fulham council, said he was keen for his council to be the first in the UK to roll out the new technology “to clean our filthy air”.

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