Scientists Make "Artificial Leaf"

The photo to the left doesn't look like much, but it's actually quite a big deal. MIT scientist Daniel Nocera and colleagues have achieved a huge milestone in energy production by mimicking what nature has done for a long time: they've successfully mimicked photosynthesis with an "artificial leaf."

A team of chemistry and engineering scientists from MIT today announced the completion of their quest to create an artificial leaf that creates electricity from water like a leaf produces oxygen and food from carbon dioxide.

The discovery, formally presented by its leader, MIT chemist Daniel Nocera, at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, doesn't look like a leaf, but rather like a very thin credit card. But placed in a gallon of water, the biomimicked leaf can produce enough electricity for a day in a house in a developing country. In the lab, Nocera was able to keep a prototype running for 45 hours without a drop in activity.

"A practical artificial leaf has been one of the Holy Grails of science for decades," said Nocera. "We believe we have done it. The artificial leaf shows particular promise as an inexpensive source of electricity for homes of the poor in developing countries. Our goal is to make each home its own power station," he said. "One can envision villages in India and Africa not long from now purchasing an affordable basic power system based on this technology."

Link | 2008 MIT News article about Daniel's research


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The real breakthrough would be direct Photocatalysis, the HolyGrail that has been eluding us since it was first described in 1967, known as the Honda/Fujisawa effect. UV light illuminating a Titania cathode connected externally to a platinum anode in water first hydrolyzed water. O2 at the titania electrode and H at the platinum electrode. This looks like self promotion of a more efficient electrolysis for ARPA-E funding.
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It does not mimic photosynthesis.

Photosynthesis is the use of sunlight to convert CO2 into organic compounds (like sugar).

It uses sunlight to accomplish a completely different task - harvesting hydrogen from water. The process is known as photoelectrolysis.
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