‘Artificial Forest’ Nanosystem Mimics Photosynthesis, Researchers Say

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U.S. scientists have developed what they say is the first integrated nanosystem capable of replicating the process of photosynthesis, a sort of “artificial forest” that could one day lead to the production of hydrogen that could be used to power fuel cells.

Composed of nanowire structures — including silicon “trunks” and titanium oxide “branches” — the system mimics the role played by chloroplasts in promoting photosynthesis in green plants. By assembling the “trees” in a dense array, resembling a miniature forest, the network lowers sunlight reflection and provides more surface area for hydrogen-producing reactions, the scientists say.

“We’ve integrated our nanowire nanoscale heterostructure into a functional system that mimics the integration in chloroplasts and provides a conceptual blueprint for better solar-to-fuel conversion efficiencies in the future,” said Peidong Yang, a chemist with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and co-author of the study, published in the journal NANO Letters. The lab of Daniel Nocera at Harvard University is doing related research into so-called artificial leaves.

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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