A team of researchers at MIT’s Nocera Lab, headed by Dr. Daniel Nocera, claim that they have invented a durable playing-card sized artificial leaf using inexpensive and readily available such as silicone, electronics and catalysts – therefore making it the first practical artificial leaf technology. The device is an advanced solar cell, no bigger than a typical playing card, which is left floating in a pool of water. 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. Nocera's leaf is stable operating continuously for at least 45 hours without a drop in activity in preliminary tests and made of widely available, inexpensive materials like silicon, electronics and chemical catalysts. It's also powerful, as much as ten times more efficient at carrying out photosynthesis than a natural leaf.
While the technology has innumerable economic, political and environmental implications, it uses in developing nations is worthy of much dissemination. Nocera says that soon enough, a leaf placed in a gallon of water and left in the sun could provide a home with basic electricity for a day. Almost any type of water can be used, including waste water.
"A practical artificial leaf has been one of the Holy Grails of science for decades," Nocera says in a press release. "We believe we have done it." Nocera claims, solar tech is 10 times more efficient than regular photosynthesis, & that's just the beginning. "Nature is powered by photosynthesis, and I think that the future world will be powered by photosynthesis as well in the form of this artificial leaf."
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. One can envision villages in India and Africa not long from now purchasing an affordable basic power system based on this technology."
Indian giant, The Tata Group, has invested significantly in the technology, and is currently working with Daniel Nocera and his company – Sun Catalytix – to commercialize his artificial leaf. According to a company spokesman, the efforts are the company’s latest endeavour to serve the "bottom of the pyramid."