Artificial Leaf: the Answer for the Future of Renewable Energy?

Although the sources and methods on renewable energy are far from being in an early stage, if everything goes well with a given project, all the research to date could be reduced to zero, in terms of efficiency.

Given that solar energy is one of the most constant sources of energy and plant photosynthesis is the most intelligent algorithm to exploit it, a large volume of research was invested in the development of artificial photosynthesis. In theory, the improvement of such method, in addition to environmental benefits, has the advantage of implementation in units that do not depend on a whole set. However, this method has also been perfected several years now. The only problem so far has been linked to the use in parts of some extremely expensive and rare metals, something which cut again a bit of its feasibility.

As a solution to the problem, a new type of artificial leaf was developed. Basically, a material with light absorbing properties is placed between two layers of film. When placed in water and exposed to sunlight, the new artificial leaf has the ability to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, mentioning that the hydrogen resulted from separation is put in storage for future use.

The concept is not new, but the revelation came in the form of use for common construction materials such as cobalt, nickel or zinc. Since the alternative so far was platinum, with the new materials production costs have dropped dramatically and the price of the finished product has also benefited from a substantial discount.

The idea came from a researcher named Daniel Nocera of MIT and is chronicled in detail in a paper titled Accounts of Chemical Research. Regarding the performance achieved by his solution, Nocera said that such “leaf” offers the entire global society the most direct path to a future based on renewable energy.

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