Green plants use photosynthesis to convert water and sunlight into energy used to help the plant grow. Scientists have created the first practical artificial leaf that mimics the natural process and holds promise for sustainable green energy. The key to this practical artificial leaf is that unlike earlier devices it doesn’t use expensive components in its construction.
The new artificial leaf is made from inexpensive materials and uses low-cost engineering and manufacturing processes making it much more practical. The artificial leaf has an component to collect sunlight sandwich between two films that generate oxygen and hydrogen gas. When the artificial leaf is placed into a jar of water and placed in sunlight, it bubbles, releasing hydrogen that can be used by fuel cells to make electricity. Previous designs needed expensive materials like platinum along with expensive manufacturing processes.
The new artificial leaf replaces the costly platinum with a less expensive nickel-molybdenum-zinc compound. The opposite side of the leaf has a cobalt film that generates oxygen gas. The hope is that this sort of device can be used to generate electricity for remote places that are off the electrical grid. The tech could also be used to power all sorts of devices including phones and more.
“Considering that it is the 6 billion nonlegacy users that are driving the enormous increase in energy demand by midcentury, a research target of delivering solar energy to the poor with discoveries such as the artificial leaf provides global society its most direct path to a sustainable energy future,” he says.