Energy Crisis May Be Thwarted by 'Artificial Leaf'

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"Leaf splits water molecules into individual hydrogen and oxygen atoms, channeling the hydrogen into a fuel cell, which would generate electricity. Inventor's company aims to make each home its own power station."

Energy crisis concerns may have met their match, according to an MIT scientist who has invented an 'artificial leaf.'

Professor Daniel Nocera presented his device at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society. Its function is to split water molecules into individual hydrogen and oxygen atoms, channeling the hydrogen into a fuel cell, which would generate electricity, according to CNET's Green Tech blog.

Nocera's company, Sun Catalytix, has been working on various prototypes of the leaf for several years.

While this is not the first attempt to make an artificial leaf—an ill-fated prototype was developed over a decade ago at the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado—this is the first model to utilize cheap and readily available materials, such as nickel and cobalt.

According to a press release from the American Chemical Society, the device is 10 times more efficient at carrying out photosynthesis than a normal leaf.

The possibilities of the invention are especially pertinent for developing countries, where power grids are often unreliable and many homes go without power. Placed in a bucket of water in direct sunlight, the device could potentially meet all of the daily power needs for a home in the developing world.

"Our goal is to make each home its own power station," Nocera said. "One can envision villages in India and Africa not long from now purchasing an affordable basic power system based on this technology."

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