First Efficient Artificial Leaf

Science Daily reports that researchers at MIT have developed an artificial leaf.

This is pretty cool.  Apparently, the photosynthesis in the A-leaf is 10 times better than in a real leaf. 

It’s a very small, simple device as well.  Made of common materials (not exotic, expensive stuff).  And lasts for a relatively long time (45 hours), compared to previous attempts.

So this device splits water into hydrogen and oxygen using sunlight.  The plan is to combine this with a hydrogen fuel cell to provide electricity.  According to the article and the author, a gallon of water can provide a home with electricity for a day.  Note that this isn’t a US home, but a developing country home.  Although it’s so simple, a large bank of these things should easily power a US home.

But here’s where I have some issues with the device and the claims.  Photosynthesis does not crack water into hydrogen and oxygen, at least that’s not all it does.  When they say 10 times better, what do they really mean?  Ten times the energy of photosynthesis, ten times the sunlight absorbance, ten times the water cracked?  I guess we’ll have to wait for the actual paper and product to come out (I volunteer to test it).

The other concern is this is being touted as a solution to the energy needs of third world countries.  But while the A-leaf may be simple, the fuel cell that it needs to actually make electricity is not so simple, or cheap.  Fuel cells are still filled with some pretty exotic and expensive materials.  They’ve gotten a lot better, but still have a long way to go.

Is it cool?  Yes.  Is it a great idea? Yes.  Will it solve the problems of the world?  I’m gonna hold of on that one.  We’ll just have to see.

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