Faux-tosynthesis: The Artificial Leaf that Could Power Your Home Faux-tosynthesis: The Artificial Leaf that Could Power Your Home
Social Innovation

Faux-tosynthesis: The Artificial Leaf that Could Power Your Home

by Ben Jervey

April 3, 2011

Call it faux-tosynthesis. An MIT research team lead by Daniel Nocera revealed an "artificial leaf" that uses the sun's rays to produce energy. Developing an energy source modeled on photosynthesis like this has long been a goal of energy science. (We actually highlighted Nocera's project in the GOOD 100 way back in 2009.)

The basic science sounds simple enough: The sun's rays split water into hydrogen and oxygen, which can then be recombined in a fuel cell. When they are recombined, energy is created. But constructing these artificial leaves out of stable materials that have reasonably long lifespans and aren't prohibitively expensive has been an obstacle. The challenge, in other words, is making this faux-tosynthesis practical.

Says Nocera:

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.

Right now, Nocera's leaf is about ten times more efficient than a natural leaf, and his team is working to increase that number. It would need to scale considerably to power American homes, but relatively energy-light homes in the developing world could see the benefits of these solar leaves in the not-too-distant future.

Image: Screenshot from this DOE video

Ben Jervey More Info

Ben is a writer and editor covering climate change, energy, and environment, and is currently the Climate and Energy Media Fellow at Vermont Law School. He was the original Environment Editor at GOOD Magazine and his work has appeared regularly in National Geographic News, Grist, DeSmogBlog, and OnEarth. He recently worked with the non-profit Focus the Nation to publish an Energy 101 primer. When living in New York City, he wrote a book, The Big Green Apple, on how to live a lower impact life in the city. A bicycle enthusiast, Ben has ridden across the United States and through much of Europe.
Some recent articles by Ben Jervey:
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Faux-tosynthesis: The Artificial Leaf that Could Power Your Home