reported the development of what has been termed ‘artificial leaf’ by a team of scientists led by award-winning chemist Daniel Nocera of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The device is actually a small solar cell, about the size of a playing card (a common natural plant leaf), which operated on the natural principle of photosynthesis in plants, i.e. creating energy from abundant natural elements, i.e. water and sunlight. The announcement of the development was made in Anaheim, California, on March 27, 2011, at the annual of the American Chemical Society.
The artificial leaf was a concept developed over a decade ago, and John Turner of the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory actualized the concept by developing the first artificial leaf. However, the earlier device was not practicable for commercial use because it was made of expensive material and lost its function just a day after its trial operation. The new artificial leaf, developed by Nocera’s team, is made of inexpensive silicon and electronic parts and is ten times more efficient at energy generation than a natural leaf.
Placed in a water container in the presence of sunlight, the new artificial leaf splits water into its constituent elements, hydrogen and oxygen, that can be stored in a fuel cell where these are used to produce electric power. Developed for household use, this device can be ideal the solution to the question of sustainable power generation, particularly in developing countries.
Daniel Nocera is confident that in future, the efficiency of the new artificial leaf will be enhanced further and the future world will be run primarily by power generation through artificial leaves.