Details of First Low-Cost ‘Artificial Leaf’ Published

Published: May 10, 2012

An MIT chemist has found a way to replicate photosynthesis on the cheap.

Science has turned over a new leaf – an artificial leaf, actually. MIT professor Daniel G. Nocera has published his work in creating a low-cost artificial leaf in the journal Accounts of Chemical Research, potentially creating a new source of alternative energy. The key property of an artificial leaf is its ability to perform photosynthesis, the process that plants undertake to convert sunlight and water into energy. Via ScienceDaily:

The artificial leaf has a sunlight collector sandwiched between two films that generate oxygen and hydrogen gas. When dropped into a jar of water in the sunlight, it bubbles away, releasing hydrogen that can be used in fuel cells to make electricity.

Earlier artificial leaves were prohibitively expensive to make, as they required using rare metals such as platinum as a catalyst to spur on hydrogen production. But Nocera’s leaf uses a much more affordable – and widely available – nickel-molybdenum-zinc compound, while the oxygen is produced by a film of cobalt. Nocera says the devices could be used as batteries in remote areas far removed from power grids, and could help the world’s poor power their homes for next to nothing.