“Artificial leaf” enlarges potential for affordable solar energy
Joyce Kilmer once said that only God can make a tree. However, a team of scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently constructed (not created) an “artificial leaf.”
The scientists, led by Daniel Nocera, got their cue from the chemistry of the leaf, and came up with a silicon cell that has the ability to split water into its basic components of hydrogen and oxygen, in this producing energy, not unlike photosynthesis in the chloroplast of leaves, Daily Tech reported.
Nocera told Digital Trends, “The artificial leaf shows particular promise as an inexpensive source of electricity for the homes of the poor in developing countries. Our goal is to make each home its own power station.”
In this way, homes in villages in Africa and India would—if the technology is perfected—have access to affordable energy, Digital Trends said.
As of now, there is an upside and a downside to the device. On the upside, Nocera said his “artificial leaf” is 10 times more efficient at photosynthesis than a leaf. On the downside, it only works for 45 hours, Digital Trends reported.
It does not have the ability to self-replicate, heal from damage, or generate from the soil on the ground, Daily Tech said. Ergo, the artificial leaf doth not a tree make.
Still, it has the potential to raise the efficiency of solar power, according to Daily Tech. In appearance, the “artificial leaf” looks like a playing card in shape and size, but it is thinner, Digital Trends said.
When placed in a gallon of water under the bright sunlight, theoretically it is expected to be strong enough to power a house in a tropical country for a day, Digital Trends reported.
The “artificial leaf” does this with the use of a nickel-cobalt catalyst that was invented by Nocera, which interacts with metal ions, according to Daily Tech. In this way the hydrogen and oxygen can be stored in a fuel cell.
Nocera’s “artificial leaf” is an improvement on the “solar leaf” that was invented 10 years before by John Turner from the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, Daily Tech said.
The “solar leaf” depended on expensive and rare metals. Similar designs through the years were either less efficient or too expensive, Daily Tech reported. Nocera’s “artificial leaf” by contrast is more efficient and made of components that are much cheaper.
The only problem now is, the fuel cells where the “artificial leaf” will store the excess hydrogen and oxygen for later use is expensive. However, if a similar breakthrough is reached in finding an alternative to the fuel cell, then the entire structure could be mass produced, Daily Tech said.