It seems like a new technological development has appeared. Scientists developed an artificial leaf capable of converting solar energy into liquid fuels. Furthermore, this new technology might one day provide fuel for vehicles.
Pamela Silver from Harvard Medical School together with Daniel Nocera from Harvard University developed a new solar power system, capable of dividing water molecules and hydrogen-eating bacteria to produce liquid fuels.
Furthermore, the researchers demonstrated during the study how the new solar power system can produce usable fuels with high accuracy. According to Silver, also a core member of the Harvard University Wyss Institute, the team has a highly versatile platform capable of making any downstream molecule based on carbon.
The present model was build based on previous research conducted by another team which included Silver and Nocera. The first prototype of the artificial leaf had to deal with many challenging issues, such as the creation of reactive oxygen species that wiped out the DNA of the hydrogen-eating bacteria.
The first bionic leaf consisted of a nickel-molybdenum-zinc alloy hydrogen-producing catalyst. Plus, it had to be able to function on extremely high voltages that resulted in lowered efficiency. In spite of all previous problems, the former model of the artificial leaf was capable of using solar energy to produce isopropanol.
The upgraded 2.0 artificial leaf does not produce reactive oxygen species and has a cobalt-phosphorous alloy catalyst. In addition to this, the efficiency level of the device significantly increases thanks to the leaf’s capacity to function on low voltage.
The artificial leaf 2.0 is able to convert solar energy into biomass with a 10 percent efficiency rate. Plus, this rate is ten times higher than the 1 percent observed at the fastest-growing plant species.
Furthermore, the new leaf can also produce a bioplastic precursor called PHB, isobutanol, and isopentanol. Moreover, thanks to the self-healing ability of the catalyst, the liquid is prevented from leaking into the complete solution.
According to Nocera, also a Patterson Rockwood Professor of Energy at Harvard University, this discovery has the potential of surpassing the efficiency of photosynthesis. In addition to this, it can be used in various fields from which the world can benefit.
Plus, the researchers’ efforts to develop of the artificial leaf were financially supported by the First 100 Watts program of the Harvard University.