Artificial leaf advances to use with hydrogen fuel cells

Artificial leaf advances to use with hydrogen fuel cells

June 18, 2011 0 By Stephen Vagus

Earlier this year, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology achieved an engineering marvel: The creation of the world’s first synthetic leaf.

The artificial leaf is a technological feat likened to the “holy grail” in terms of scope.

While synthetic biology is not explicitly new, MIT’s researchers were successful in perfectly replicating photosynthesis, a process that scientists had never before been able to replicate. Researchers have noted that the leaf can replace the platinum catalysts found in hydrogen fuel cells, significantly reducing their cost, increasing the performance and making them a truly green technology.

David Nocera, one of the primary scientists behind the artificial leaf project, has been laboring in the effort of expanding the use of the technology. He is now trying to fully incorporate the technology into a hydrogen fuel system.

The leaf will replace the traditional platinum catalyst of a fuel cell, as it was always intended to, but will draw upon synthetic sunlight to generate the electricity necessary in generating hydrogen.

There is a key flaw inherent in the fuel cell system, however. The chemical reactions within the fuel cell are notoriously aggressive and cause the artificial leaf to degrade quickly. Nocera, in an effort to resolve the issue, has assigned two teams to experiment with different ways to protect the leaf catalyst from chemical electrolysis.

While his teams develop protections for the leaf, Nocera has founded a new company called Sun Catalytix. The company will be responsible for production the first “leaf” fuel cells.