Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have created the first feasible artificial leaf. While the leaf doesn’t look anything like its plant inspiration, it works in a similar way. The leaf is a solar cell the size of a poker card, and it mimics the process of photosynthesis by using water and sunlight converting it into energy. In this case the energy is electricity.
The scientists have suggested that the artificial leaf could be an inexpensive source of electricity used to power homes in developing countries.
When placed in a single gallon of water in bright sunlight, the device could produce enough electricity to supply a house in a developing country with electricity for a day. The device could be dropped into anything from a bucket of water to a puddle. In laboratory studies, the artificial leaf prototype operated continuously for 45 hours without a drop in activity.
The artificial leaf produces electricity by splitting water into its two components – hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen and oxygen gases are then stored in a fuel cell, which uses the two materials to produce electricity. The fuel cell could be located on top of a house or beside it.
The artificial leaf is made from silicon, electronics and catalysts, which help to speed up chemical reactions. Unlike previous attempts to create an artificial leaf, this one is made of inexpensive, widely available materials. The catalysts are made of nickel and cobalt, which are highly efficient at splitting water into its two components.
According to the scientists, the leaf is about 10 times more efficient at carrying out photosynthesis than a natural leaf. The scientists hope to boost the efficiency of the artificial leaf much higher in the future. Hopefully they’ll soon be able to manufacture the leaf for widespread use and help out millions of people who could use the electricity.
Photo Prototype: Daily Mail