Solar Artificial Leaf is Unveiled by MIT Researchers

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MIT chemist Daniel Nocera has unveiled details about his long-awaited “artificial leaf” invention, a small solar cell that mimics photosynthesis and has the potential to produce low-cost electricity for individual homes — an advance that could be particularly valuable in the developing world, where many people lack electricity.

About the size of a playing card, the solar cell — which uses inexpensive and widely available materials like silicon — is able to split water into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen. Placed in a gallon of water in bright sunlight, the device could produce enough electricity to supply a house in a developing country with electricity for a day.

The hydrogen and oxygen gases produced by the artificial leaf could be stored in a small fuel cell, which would use the gases to generate electricity. Nocera, who has been working on the technology for several years, released details about it during the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in California. “Our goal is to make each home its own power station,” said Nocera.

While U.S. researchers had previously developed a so-called “artificial leaf,” Nocera’s recent discovery of inexpensive catalysts, including nickel and cobalt, has made the technology more efficient and cost-effective.

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.

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Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news. Yale Environment 360 is published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale University. We are funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The opinions and views expressed in Yale Environment 360 are those of the authors and not of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies or of Yale University.

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