An artificial leaf may provide fuel for us in the future. This new innovative technology is the work of scientists at Harvard, who have developed a bionic leaf that turns solar energy into fuel. This recent development might one day be used to power our vehicles.
Scientists Daniel Nocera (Harvard University) and Pamela Silver (Harvard Medical School) have joined forces to create this groundbreaking solar power system that divides hydrogen-eating bacteria and water molecules so that it can produce liquid fuels. The team demonstrated how the bionic leaf 2.0 can produce usable fuels in an impressively efficient way.
The new model is designed on previous research conducted by a team of researchers that also included Nocera and Silver. The first model of the artificial leaf faced several issues, but it was still able to produce isopropanol using solar energy.
The process basically copies the natural process of photosynthesis. Like the previous versions of the artificial leaves, the bionic leaf 2.0 has to be placed in water and, while it absorbs solar energy, it splits the water molecules into the component gases (hydrogen and oxygen). The gases can be collected and used in fuel cells to generate electricity. Now, however, the artificial leaf may provide fuel.
But that’s as close to a leaf as it gets. Pamela Silver, co-author on the paper, says visitors to her laboratory are disappointed. The bionic leaf looks nothing like a natural leaf. “It’s just a jar with wires coming out of it,” Silver says.
The latest bionic leaf transforms solar energy into biomass with an impressive efficiency rate of 10 percent. This is quite a significant accomplishment, given that the among the fast-growing plant species, the rate is only 1 percent. This means that it’s ten times more efficient than the most effective plants.
Another benefit of the new bionic leaf model is that is can also create isopentanol, isobutanol, and PHB. The catalyst prevents it from leaking into the final solution.
The team behind the new technology says it is currently working on possible commercial applications. Researcher Daniel Nocera plans to use this technology in developing countries because it is an inexpensive source of renewable energy. It could be used to power individual homes.
The paper on the research was published June 3 in the journal Science.
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