1 April 2011 | EN
Testing a water-splitting catalyst for the 'artificial leaf'
An artificial leaf that can turn sunshine into electricity was showcased last week at a chemistry meeting.
Its inventors hope they have overcome a key obstacle to making a cheap technology that could provide the poor with energy using just sunshine and water as inputs.
Daniel Nocera, a chemist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States, told a meeting that he has built a silicon 'leaf' that is about the size and shape of a playing card. It is coated on both sides with catalysts and needs to be immersed in water to work.
When the silicon absorbs the sunlight, it passes the energy to the catalysts which split the water into hydrogen and oxygen molecules. The resulting hydrogen molecules can be collected and either burned directly or converted to electricity via a fuel cell. In either case the byproduct is water, so the leaf has the potential to create a cheap, clean and readily available source of fuel.
"You literally walk outside, hold it up and it works," said Nocera, who presented his unpublished work at the biannual meeting of the American Chemical Society.
"It's spectacular", Robert Grubbs, a chemist at the California Institute of Technology, told Science.
Nocera, who is also a founder of a spinoff company, Sun Catalytix, said that he hopes to commercialise the technology within 2–3 years.
He is also joining forces with Ratan Tata, chair of Tata Group, an Indian conglomerate, in the hope of producing a refrigerator-sized power plant that can convert sunlight and water into electricity.
Science doi: 10.1126/science.332.6025.25 (2011)
Dr.A.Jagadeesh ( Nayudamma Centre for Development Alternatives | India )
4 April 2011
Nagesh Hegde ( India )
6 April 2011
Why go through such a complicated route to produce hydrogen? Almost every village produces cowdung. Why not produce biogas (methane) and then obtain hydrogen? The next step is to link it to a readily available fuel cell.
orion ( France )
8 April 2011
Cowdung is useful as a fertilizer in agriculture, sun is free.
Tomorrow-360 ( Grenada )
26 April 2011
Good comment, I welcome this idea.
Omoaye ( Nigeria )
6 May 2011
This is a good work and well appreciated becasue it targets the rural poor. well done
Terry ( Red Plough International | Thailand )
13 January 2012
Fantastic. Bravo. This could do more to alleviate poverty than all the projects to date-if "the poor" are allowed to afford it.
DEV ( Albania )
13 January 2012
Orion - France - cowdung is used as fertiliser even after methane gas emmited by it used as fuel. Hence there is nothing like it's use "EITHER AS FERTILISER OR AS FUEL".
Eric Ferguson ( Netherlands )
15 January 2012
Of course it works, but it has no practical significance unless it is cost-competitive with other types of solar panels. The crucial price is how much useful energy flow you get per unit of investment (daily mean Watt per Euro). Land cost is probably of secondary importance.
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