May 31 2011

Artificial Leaves Produce Hydrogen Fuel

Published by under Student blog entries

    Nathan Lewis and Daniel Nocera have been developing artificial leaves that make fuel from sunlight.  According to Nathan S. Lewis from the California Institute of Technology, “Artificial leaves are inspired by leaves, but they won’t look like them.”  Lewis is the principal investigator for this five-year project which has been given a $122 million grant by the federal Department of Energy.  These leaves will be thin sheets of plastic embedded light absorbing qualities, similar to sheets of bubble-wrap.  They may also be spread over a field to take in sunlight and water vapor and emit hydrogen and methanol. 

    Artificial leaves are not new in laboratories, and one creator of artificial leaves, Daniel Nocera, wants to put them on the roofs of homes in developing countries.  His leaves are made of inexpensive materials and work with water.  He plans on collecting hydrogen produced as a fuel.  However, these leaves are not designed for high energy use of the average American homes.  The water these leaves split does not need to be pure, giving it another advantage to installing in developing countries.   Another advantage is the hydrogen does not need to be delivered to homes, it is produced on the spot. 

   Dr. Nocera formed a company, Sun Catalytix in 2008 in Cambridge, Massachusets.  They are working on the commercial development of the silicon leaves.  Sun Catalytix is focusing on building and analyzing prototypes of the silicon leaves for developing countries, and the reliability of these leaves is still questionable. 


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