Artificial leaves could provide cheap energy

Scientists produced a design concept they hope will make it possible to manufacture fuel by photosynthesis.

If successful, it could help pave the way to a green and cost-efficient ”hydrogen economy”.

Photosynthesis enables plants to use energy from sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into organic compounds.

The chemistry involved is complex and has never been reproduced artificially,

Today, a team of Chinese scientists revealed the blueprint of an ”Artificial Inorganic Leaf” (AIL) based on Mother Nature’s own design.

A working version could be used to capture solar energy and use it efficiently to split water into oxygen and hydrogen, its component elements.

”Our results may represent an important first step towards the design of novel artificial solar energy transduction systems based on natural paradigms,” said lead researcher Dr Tongziang Fan, from Shanghai Jiaotong University in Shanghai.

Hydrogen is the ultimate clean fuel, producing nothing but water vapour when burned.

Some motor companies, such as Toyota, have already developed hydrogen-fuelled cars. Fuel cells, which generate electricity from a chemical reaction, also rely on hydrogen.

But the problem with hydrogen is that it is energy-consuming and costly to produce using traditional methods.

The new research was presented today at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Francisco.

Dr Fan’s team used the leaves of the Chinese plant Anemone vitifolia as a ”template” for the artificial leaf.

The concept employs tiny particles of titanium dioxide, a well known photocatalyst that allows sunlight to drive chemical reactions


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