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Technology imitates nature with creation of ‘artificial leaf’

Researchers at NMIT, led by professor Daniel Nocera, have developed a device that, just like a living leaf, converts energy from sunlight into a chemical fuel that can be stored and used later as an energy source. 

An article published on the NMIT website, describes the technology: 

The artificial leaf — a silicon solar cell with different catalytic materials bonded onto its two sides — needs no external wires or control circuits to operate. Simply placed in a container of water and exposed to sunlight, it quickly begins to generate streams of bubbles: oxygen bubbles from one side and hydrogen bubbles from the other. If placed in a container that has a barrier to separate the two sides, the two streams of bubbles can be collected and stored, and used later to deliver power: for example, by feeding them into a fuel cell that combines them once again into water while delivering an electric current. 

Nocera is excited by the ongoing prospects of the technology, saying that in the future the material could be broken down into smaller particles that can split water molecules when places in sunlight, effectively acting as a photosynthetic algae as opposed to a leaf. That means more surface area is exposed, making for more efficient harnessing of the sun’s energy. 

For the scientific jargon-apt among you, here’s the scientific explanation of the technology. Or check out the leaf in action below.