Artificial leaf continues to make hydrogen fuel more viable

Artificial leaf continues to make hydrogen fuel more viable

April 18, 2013 0 By Erin Kilgore

Hydrogen Fuel

Hydrogen fuel continues to see progress thanks to artificial leaf

In 2011, Daniel Nocera, a professor of energy and chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), along with his team of researchers, produced the world’s first practical artificial leaf. This artificial leaf successfully mimics the process of photosynthesis, converting sunlight into hydrogen fuel in a manner that is neither energy intensive nor inefficient. The creation of the artificial leaf was heralded as a major success in the world of science as mimicking photosynthesis has long been considered the proverbial “holy grail” for scientists around the world. The saga of the artificial leaf is only just beginning.

Leaf successfully produces hydrogen gas using sunlight and water

Nocera, along with his team of researchers from MIT, have announced that a new feature has been added to the acclaimed artificial leaf. The new feature is expected to make the leaf an even more viable energy solution for developing countries and communities in remote locations with limited access to electrical power. The leaf is already simple enough to use, as it is little more than a catalyst that is coated in silicon. The leaf can be dropped into water and exposed to sunlight in order to produce hydrogen fuel, which can then be used to generate electricity with a fuel cell.

Leaf receives self-healing properties

Though the artificial leaf may be a scientific breakthrough, it is still fragile and susceptible to the corrosive elements involved in producing hydrogen fuel. Over time, the catalyst would succumb to these corrosive elements and the leaf would become dysfunctional. In order to avoid this problem, researchers have found a way to infuse the leaf with self-healing properties. The process itself involves the use of catalysts that have exhibited these properties. Nocera calls these “living catalysts” and they have shown that they can stop the growth of bacteria while in water by breaking down their own surfaces in order to make themselves less accommodating to bacteria formation. The catalysts can then reconstruct themselves and can continue producing hydrogen fuel.

Artificial leaf is no longer restricted to clean water

Along with these self-healing properties, the artificial leaf is gaining the capability of generating hydrogen fuel from dirty water. Previously, clean water was required for the system to produce hydrogen fuel. Dirty water contains bacteria that can corrode the catalyst over time, making is less efficient and eventually inoperable. Now that the artificial leaf can “heal” itself, however, it no longer relies on clean water in order to produce hydrogen fuel.