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Published:April 9th, 2011 11:30 EST

Researchers Develop the First Practical 'Artificial Leaf'

By Ernest Dempsey

World Science reported the development of what has been termed "artificial leaf` by a team of scientists led by award-winning chem­ist Dan­iel No­cera of the Mas­sa­chu­setts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy (MIT). The device is actually a small solar cell, about the size of a playing card (a common natural plant leaf), which operated on the natural principle of photosynthesis in plants, i.e. creating energy from abundant natural elements, i.e. water and sunlight. The announcement of the development was made in An­a­heim, California, on March 27, 2011, at the an­nu­al of the Amer­i­can Chem­i­cal So­ci­e­ty.

 

Artificial leaf has been a concept developed over a decade ago, and John Turn­er of the U.S. Na­t­ional Re­new­able En­er­gy Lab­o­r­a­to­ry actualized the concept by developing the first artificial leaf. However, the earlier device was not practicable for commercial use because it was made of expensive martial and lost its function just a day after its trial operation. The new artificial leaf, developed by No­cera`s team, is made of inexpensive silicon and electronic parts and is ten times more efficient at energy generation than a natural leaf.

 

Placed in a water container in the presence of sunlight, the new artificial leaf splits water into its constituent elements, hydrogen and oxygen, that can be stored in a fuel cell where these are used to produce electric power. Developed for household use, this device can be ideal the solution to the question of sustainable power generation, particularly in developing countries.

 

Dan­iel No­cera is confident that in future, the efficiency of the new artificial leaf will be enhanced further and the future world will be run primarily by power generation through artificial leaves.