Artificial leaf produces energy from sunlight

Sustainability and innovation
MIT scientists have developed an artificial leaf that can split water via sunlight into hydrogen and oxygen. Scientists have been working for years to imitate photosynthesis, the process by which plants separate water into hydrogen and oxygen using solar light as the energy input. Thus far, the results have been very high cost artificial “leaves” with a short lifespan. Fun for the lab but not practical. Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have however found a way to created a stable, cheap artificial leaf with a long lifespan that also is practical in use.

The artificial leaves are made of silicon, electronics and various catalysts and do not look like the leaf from a tree. The artificial leaf, which is no bigger than a playing card, sits in a few liters of water and placed in sunlight. Then much like a natural leaf, it uses sunlight to split the water into its two core components, oxygen and hydrogen, which are stored in a fuel cell to be used when producing electricity. According to scientists, these artificial leaves could produce enough electricity to power a house in a developing country for an entire day. The prototype operated for 45 hours without a drop in activity. The leaf is ten times more efficient at carrying out photosynthesis than a natural leaf. The next step is a even higher efficiency and lifespan so that there will be a new inexpensive form of energy in the future.
Source:, March 29, 2011


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