Man-Made Leaves

Researchers at the 241st National Meeting of the American Chemical Society announced that they have successfully designed a synthetic leaf that can harness energy from the sun to produce electricity.  We have all seen the huge roof-mounted solar panels that are sometimes found on American homes, but this new leaf-like solar panel is only roughly the size of a playing card, yet is thinner and already ten times as efficient as its natural counterpart.  Green plants use photosynthesis to convert water and sunlight into energy by splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen gas, and this new man-made leaf technology mimics this process by using specific catalysts to drive many related reactions.

Daniel Nocera, the leader of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology team responsible for the discovery says that artificial leaves have been one of the “Holy Grails of science for decades.”  What makes this leaf-like solar panel so unique are the inexpensive materials it uses, the simple conditions under which it operates (needing only a supply of water and sunlight), and the high efficiency researchers have been able to engineer into the leaf.  Multiple leaves can break apart water molecules and pool the liberated hydrogen and oxygen gases in an external fuel cell, which can then supply electricity on demand.  The real excitement around this discovery stems from its potential application to developing countries around the world.  In one gallon of water, one of these leaves can potentially produce enough electricity to power an average home for an entire day.  The infrastructure needed to power homes in remote areas is often a limiting factor, but through renewable energy sources like this, researchers like Nocera hope to turn each home into “its own power station,” especially in the world’s most energy-deficient regions like India and Africa.

For more information about this new synthetic leaf technology, check out the full article from

Written by: Walter Palmer


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