Researchers at MIT’s Nocera Lab, led by Dr. Daniel Nocera have come up with a conception that can actually be considered as a nigh revolutionary advancement made in the field of chemistry. Basically composed of silicon, electronic components and low-cost chemical catalysts like cobalt and nickel for initiating reactions, this leaf (which actually doesn’t look like a natural leaf) can successfully utilize sunlight for “photosynthesis,” i.e. to break water into hydrogen and oxygen. The resultant hydrogen can then be used to produce clean electricity.
What difference will it make?
Already being touted as the world’s very first balanced artificial leaf, this recreation has not been done for any cosmetic appeal, but rather conceived to address the core functionality issue especially in relation to clean energy generation. The scientists wanted it to have the same energy input and output as a natural leaf. And perhaps they have been successful in that, as according to the lab’s observations, these playing card-sized leaves have produced a constant output of power for 45 continuous hours, without any instability issues. Now compare that to the first artificial leaf that was developed more than ten years ago by John Turner of the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory. It was supposedly unstable and lasted for only one day.
Moreover, the important factor in this case has been that the researchers have managed to achieve this convenient technology in a relatively cost-effective way. They have used inexpensive materials such as cobalt and nickel as catalysts. So, at the end of the day, we may get a low-cost yet efficient source for clean and ‘green’ electricity generation, and that too being integrated with a naturalistic quality.
In the present scenario, this artificial leaf can act as an inexpensive and compact source of electricity, specifically for small appliances. The requirements are just a gallon of water and sunlight. The water molecules will be split by natural sunlight just like in photosynthesis to give hydrogen and oxygen. The resultant hydrogen in turn can power our small appliances.
The artificial leaf also shows particular promise as an inexpensive yet sustainable source of electricity for homes of the poor in developing countries, especially in places like villages in India and Africa. Their cost effectiveness can be used as an advantageous attribute to power up affordable basic power systems. And, as the technology advances, one day it could even replace our large scale conventional power grids to generate a totally emission free form of electricity!