Engineers from the University of California San Diego have been experimenting with nanotechnology. Their efforts are largely fueled by last year’s development of the world’s first artificial leaf from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The leaf is capable of perfectly replicating photosynthesis, producing electricity and hydrogen gas by absorbing sunlight. USC researchers are taking the concept of an artificial leaf a step further. They are working to create nanotrees.
The artificial trees are meant to mimic plants in their natural environment. The trees are comprised of nanotubes and various other nanomaterials that are designed to accomplish this goal. Like real plants, these nanotrees are meant to absorb sunlight, water and CO2 and use these to produce hydrogen gas. This gas would then be used in hydrogen fuel cells to generate electricity. Researchers believe that the concept of a tree – a vertical structure as opposed to a horizontal structure – is the best way to harvest the maximum amount of energy possible.
Because the project is confined to a nano-scale, it is not a feasible way of generating energy. Researchers are working to scale up the project as a way to bring it to a level comparable with commercial energy systems. Once this is accomplished, they believe that these trees could take root all around the world. With a few aesthetic tweaks, they may even serve as an eye-pleasing accompaniment to residential communities.