What if you were told that we could power the Earth only using sunlight plus water? Scientists at MIT are working on making that possible! They are building what they call "an artificial leaf" or "hydrogen leaf" to do that.The "leaf" is built out of inexpensive metals. And, it can operate out of a glass of water, even dirty water, to create electricity. Wow! That sounds like electricity out of nothing! This technology can benefit the everyone, even in developing countries and remote areas!
Want to learn more about it and how it compares to a real leaf?
Using the same concepts behind photosynthesis in a plant, the artificial leaf uses the sunlight’s energy to break down the WATER it is placed in, into its hydrogen and oxygen components. These gases are then collected when they bubble up through the water, and can later be used as fuel to produce electricity with the help of special devices called Fuel cells.
The real technology is in the ability of the "artificial leaf" to convert the water into the 2 gases using just sunlight
Another similarity between the artificial leaf and natural leaves is that they both can undergo a self-repair mechanism - this means that they are able to fix themselves in order to keep functioning. When the artificial leaf was first built, it was only able to operate in pure water. This is because bacteria builds up on the leaf’s smooth metal surface and that stopped the energy production process! Now, the leaf has been treated with a special layer or “catalyst” that can fall apart, so there is no smooth surface that is required for the bacteria to grow on. This special layer is able to heal and come back together onto the leaf’s surface! With this major breakthrough, the leaf can now operate in dirty, unfiltered water! This is very attractive for use in the real world since water cannot be purified easily.
The next step is to make manufacturing possible on a larger scale. Researchers believe that if this technology works as expected, we can double the world’s electricity production in the next 35 years. The use of cheap metals in the making of the artificial leaves and use of fuel cells makes this one of the cheapest and cleanest solutions. Any guesses on the byproduct or waste from the fuel cells? It is water!
I hope this technology works as demonstrated at the MIT lab and solves the looming energy crisis of the next few years.
By: Sally Sautner