From Ben Jervey at Good magazine. Check out the entire article here.
Call it faux-tosynthesis. An MIT research team lead by Daniel Nocera revealed this week an “artificial leaf” that uses the sun’s rays to produce energy. Developing an energy source modeled on photosynthesis like this has long been a goal of energy science.
The basic science sounds simple enough: The sun’s rays split water into hydrogen and oxygen, which can then be recombined in a fuel cell. When they are recombined, energy is created.
But constructing these artificial leaves out of stable materials that have reasonably long lifespans and aren’t prohibitively expensive has been an obstacle. The challenge, in other words, is making this faux-tosynthesis practical.
Their new leaf utilizes relatively abundant and inexpensive materials—nickel and cobalt—for its catalysts.
The leaf itself is described as about the size of a playing card, and in laboratory conditions, it’s proven to generate power continuously for 45 hours without a drop in performance. In theory, with one such leaf and a gallon of water, a typical house could be powered for a day.
Here’s an old Department of Energy video with Nocera about how the process works.