Solar power turns over a new leaf

An MIT scientist claims he has achieved “one of the Holy Grails of science”: an artificial leaf that stands up to practical application. The device simulates photosynthesis to generate electricity using just sunlight and water — reputedly doing so 10 times more efficiently than a real leaf.

Daniel Nocera acknowledged that his team’s output is not the first artificial leaf: that honor belonged to John Turner of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. But Nocera says that while Turner’s design was expensive and unstable, his team’s product is inexpensive and has been proven to work for 45 hours at a consistent output.

The difference with this device is that Norcera says he has discovered a new inexpensive catalysts that combine nickel and cobalt. That helps split oxygen and hydrogen from water, with the resulting gases being converted into power through a fuel cell.

Norcera said just one such “leaf” could be combined with a gallon of water to provide enough electricity for a household’s daily use. It is worth noting he was referring to homes in developing countries, so that’s likely to be a lower electricity use than in developed nations.

The artifical leaf is said to operate at 76% efficiency (in terms of the sunlight received and the energy output.) That compares with around a 10% efficiency in existing solar panels.

Nocera’s announcement came at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the same venue that played host to the unveiling of a technique for controlling or extinguishing fire using electricity beams.

(Picture credit: Len Rubenstein, Spectrum, Massachussets Institute of Technologt)

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6 Responses to Solar power turns over a new leaf

  1. that is a prime example of how nature does it right & we take it & do it better – all technology should be biased of this principle.

  2. I think it's wrong to use the term "photosynthesis" here, because photosynthesis is the process that describes how sugars and oxygen are produced in plants out of carbon dioxide and water. This "leaf" just splits water into it's components hydrogen and oxygen. But nevertheless an impressing invention!

  3. I think it's wrong to use the term "photosynthesis" here, because photosynthesis is the process that describes how sugars and oxygen are produced in plants out of carbon dioxide and water. This "leaf" just splits water into it's components hydrogen and oxygen. But nevertheless an impressing invention!

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