MIT's "artificial leaf" mimics photosynthesis and makes use of inexpensive catalysts derived from abundant materials to generate electricity. When placed in a gallon of water and exposed to the sun, the device cranks out electricity. Nocera most likely awed the crowd at the presentation with these words:
In all fairness, the first artificial leaf was developed more than ten years ago by John Turner of the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory. However, Turner's leaf was expensive, unstable and had a lifespan of one day. MIT's artificial leaf prototype is said to be inexpensive, highly stable and capable of operating continuously for at least 45 hours.A practical artificial leaf has been one of the Holy Grails of science for decades. We believe we have done it. The artificial leaf shows particular promise as an inexpensive source of electricity for homes of the poor in developing countries. Our goal is to make each home its own power station. One can envision villages in India and Africa not long from now purchasing an affordable basic power system based on this technology.
During the presentation, Nocera pointed out that the leaf's inexpensive catalysts – made of nickel and cobalt – are efficient at splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen and, in fact, make the artificial leaf up to ten times more efficient at carrying out the process of photosynthesis than a real leaf. That's science trumping Mother Nature.
[Source: Green Car Congress | Image: Daniel Schwen – C.C. License 2.0]