News / Science & Technology

Artificial Leaf Turns Sunlight into Electric Power

Nature-inspired solar cell could power homes

MIT scientists have created an artificial leaf which mimics photosynthesis and could be useful as an inexpensive source of electricity.
MIT scientists have created an artificial leaf which mimics photosynthesis and could be useful as an inexpensive source of electricity.

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have turned to Mother Nature for inspiration, inventing a device that mimics photosynthesis, the process plants use to convert sunlight and water into usable energy.  

The MIT researchers announced their invention at the American Chemical Society meeting in California. MIT chemistry professor Daniel Nocera says he and his colleagues took their cues from plants, which are literally buzzing with electricity.

"What happens is that sunlight comes in and hits the leaf and then the leaf immediately takes that sunlight and makes a wireless current," says Nocera.

During photosynthesis, the energy in sunlight splits water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen joins with carbon dioxide to make sugar, an essential fuel for plant growth. In Nocera’s laboratory, scientists replicated that chemical process using a silicon device about the size and shape of a playing card, only thinner.  It’s coated with nickel and cobalt catalysts that when exposed to water and ultraviolet light, accelerate a chemical reaction.  

The hydrogen is then recombined with the oxygen in a fuel cell to produce electricity. Nocera’s work builds on previous research. John Turner of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory pioneered the concept in 1998 using materials too expensive and unstable for commercialization.  

Nocera says his so-called practical artificial leaf uses less expensive materials, is more stable and more efficient than that earlier design. He says the challenge is to collect the gases coming off the silicon and store them until the energy is needed.  "It has to be engineered still," he adds.  "It will be something that we will start doing soon. You’ll be storing a fair amount of energy because this system is working at more or less the efficiency of the solar cell."

In laboratory experiments, Nocera’s solar cell prototype operated continuously for 45 hours without a drop in electrical output. Nocera notes that it works in any type of water. "You can use natural water sources, which for us is a big deal, because if you are in rural parts of the world, especially where they are poor, it is really costly to bring in pure water and so, the fact that you can go ‘over there’ to a puddle and pick the water up and begin using it, is something that is very powerful for us."

Nocera believes the artificial leaf could be especially useful as an inexpensive source of electricity for low-income populations in developing countries. The goal, Nocera says, is to make each home its own power station. He predicts a commercial version of the artificial leaf will be on the market within three years.   

You May Like

US Imposes Sanctions on Alleged Honduran Drug Gang

Treasury department alleges Los Valles group is responsible for smuggling tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into US each month More

At 91, Marvel Creator Stan Lee Continues to Expand his Universe

Company's chief emeritus hopes to interest new generation of children in superheroes of all shapes and sizes by publishing content across multiple media platforms More

Photogallery New Drug Protects Against Virus in Ebola Family

Study by researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals is first looking at drug's effectiveness after onset of symptoms More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebolai
X
George Putic
August 20, 2014 8:57 PM
While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls For Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid