Scientists have always tried to deal with the impending energy crisis but most of their creations could never even leave the laboratory table. But the transformation of Daniel Nocera’s dream project into reality has suddenly opened a lot of avenues and perhaps, has just solved one of the biggest problems of mankind.
Nocera, a veteran biochemist, was working on a project the aim of which was to create an “artificial leaf”. In 2011, he unveiled an early version of this leaf. At the ongoing 245th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society, he has announced an improved version. This “improved” artificial leaf is a simple catalyst-coated silicon wafer, and it adopts the role of real leaves in producing energy from water and sunlight.
This is how the artificial leaf works: When exposed to sunlight and dropped into a jar of water, the water gets broken down into its two components – oxygen and hydrogen, with the help of the catalysts present in the leaf. As the gases bubble up, they are collected and stored to be used as fuel. One quart of drinking water is capable of producing around 100 watts of electricity throughout a day.
However, the point where this improved version differs from the earlier versions is its self-healing capabilities. Unlike the earlier versions which required pure water, the new version of the artificial leaf can work on impure, bacteria-contaminated water found naturally. The catalyst is designed in such a way that it falls apart which doesn’t allow bacteria to get the smooth surface required to form a biofilm. The catalyst can later re-assemble and heal itself without causing any hindrance in its performance.
Above all, creating this artificial leaf requires less expensive materials and uses a design known as “buried junction” which is simple and is cheap to produce at a mass scale.