Numerous interesting, exciting, and promising possibilities exist in the realm of alternative energy. I am constantly impressed with the clever ideas people come up with. In this article, we see an excellent idea with regard to generating electricity from sunlight – and it’s not quite what you think.

How an Artificial Leaf Could Boost Solar Power

by Bryan Walsh Thursday, September 29, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Nature is amazing. Take the humble leaf—it’s capable of absorbing the sunlight and converting it into the chemical energy that fuels the growth of plants. Photosynthesis is one of the fundamental forces of life, and it’s far superior to our technological efforts to harness sunlight. A photovoltaic solar panel can transform sunlight to electricity, but right now that power is difficult to store without expensive batteries, which limits the potential of solar energy. The sugars produced by photosynthesis, though, can be tapped by a plant for energy whenever it’s needed. A solar cell that could mimic photosynthesis would be a game changer for alternative energy.

As it turns out, we make be getting close. In an article published in the September 29 Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor Daniel Nocera and his colleagues announced the development of an effective, relatively inexpensive “artificial leaf”—a solar cell that can turn sunlight directly into chemical fuel. The playing card-sized device is made up of cheap materials—silicon, cobalt and nickel mostly—and when placed in a container of water and exposed to sunlight, it generates bubbles of oxygen and hydrogen. Those gases can be collected and stored—much more easily than the electricity produced by a photovoltaic solar cell—and then used to generate power through a fuel cell.

As Nocera explained to the Financial Times, his device directly mimics nature:

It’s doing exactly the same thing as a leaf. It’s sunlight in; hydrogen and oxygen out. And you can use the hydrogen and oxygen at some later time.

Nocera has been working on the artificial leaf for some time—he’s called it the “Holy Grail” of renewable electricity. (We put Nocera on our TIME 100 list in 2009 for his work on artificial photosynthesis.) He believes the invention could make solar power affordable and viable for poor, off-the-grid locations—which is one reason why the Indian conglomerate Tata has helped finance his research. That’s why the artificial leaf is so simple—no excess equipment, no expensive materials. Ideally, the cell could produce enough electricity to power a house in a developing country with just sunlight and a gallon of water.

To keep his cells cheap, however, Nocera needs to sacrifice some efficiency—how much sunlight his cell can convert into energy. The standard commercial solar PV cell has an efficiency rate of about 10%—the artificial leaf right now is closer to 2.5%. That’s still significantly more efficient than the average actual leaf, but of course, human beings need a little more power than trees. The artificial leaf also has to be durable enough to last for thousands and thousands of hours—an older prototype, developed more than a decade ago by John Turner of the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory lasted barely a day. Nocera’s leaf has operated continuously for at least 45 hours, according to earlier presentations, but it will need to do better.

Still, at a moment when most of the attention on renewable energy is being directed towards phony “scandals,” it’s a good to see what a smart and dedicated scientist can do to change the way we power our lives.

Bryan Walsh is a senior writer at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bryanrwalsh. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME

Original post on Ecocentric

47 Responses to “Artificial Leaves: A Novel Approach To Solar Power”

  1. heland villematt says:

    We know that small businesses are adversly effected by regulation, we know that the customers of small businesses that are forced out of business do not just disappear, they have to find a new source for those products, and more times than not those consumers end up getting that product from big businesses who take a small hit to proft margins from new regulation but nothing big enough to force them to cease operations

  2. houthirunn curtner says:

    Hey fencekid, how much did it cost u all together? how long do these batteries last? and how do u get them recharged?

  3. Right, you mean a gallon. protected Saudi interests in the region for decades, since Roosevelt. We get a special deal because of it. So even when Suadi Wahhibists attacked America on (remember 15 of the Hi jackers were Saudi nationals, and the BU$H administration blacked out 28 pages of the 9/11 showing the Saudi funding of the 9/11 attacks?) we let it slide. Total costs of the resulting war including future costs is over $3 Trillion now. your debt, dumbass…

  4. gillis tria says:


    Sunny Days for Solar Power Industry as Government Incentives Will …
    San Francisco Chronicle (press release)
    The Solar Power industry in the United States is set to develop a healthy glow over the next five years, according to IBISWorld, the nation’s largest publisher of industry research. In that time, favorable government legislation is projected to …
    Mission College Dedicates 1.1-Megawatt SunPower Solar Power System, Marking …Parking Network (press release)
    all 2 news articles »

  5. drigo byleathy says:

    That right, Hemp could free us from energy, construction , medicine, paper, clothing manufacturing.. Just read the Emperor Wears no Clothes.. So dont count on cannabis being legal any time soon IMHO..

  6. Can not wait for next video. Also how reliable is this glue what is the longevity of it and becides from video what has been pros and cons of the glue and how well does it work under the topical encapsolation.

  7. tomlinkfie says:

    Is it perfect? No, but as a supplemental source it is one of the best alternative energy sources we have in the world.

  8. to ppl who spend their lifes developing alternative energy solutions that is most likely wont be commercialized in their life time.

    Power Engineering Magazine
    By Nusrat Khurshedi The term alternative energy encompasses a variety of power generation sources. Generally, it refers to electrical power derived from renewable resources such as hydro, solar or wind energy, as opposed to one-off resources such as …

  10. How come you don’t this video? It’s cool to make a video, but NOT to this video to people who can make these machines, thus creating jobs for you and your friends is just WRONG! THIS VIDEO!

  11. hone capauls says:

    My understanding is type radiation is much worse than an A A Bomb leaves less radiation. Regardless, this is far from over. At least one and probably all 3 will hit the water table and then it will blow up. With millions of gallons of steam and water. Are you a lawyer? You systematically chew a nice hole in this professional liar.

  12. India’s Tata Power to buy out BP stake in solar JV
    India plans to build an initial capacity of 1 GW of solar power by 2013, enough to power close to 1 million homes. It would then add 3-10 GW by 2017, and hopes to grow that to 20 GW by 2022. Coal currently accounts for 55 percent of India’s power …
    LETTER: Sunshine needed on Dominion’s distaste for solar Daily Progress
    Tata Power To Acquire 51% BP Alternative Energy Holdings Equity In Tata BP SolarNASDAQ
    Tata Power to buy BP Alternative Energy Holdings’ 51% stake in Tata BP SolarEconomic Times
    all 12 news articles »

  13. can u give me a free copy a simple schematic symbol of your NICE INVENTION…free deliver ur copy if u want sir pls this is my addresse( joel b. paris )-149 sitio binoalan brgy.palaming san carlos city 2420,pangasinan ,phillipines…my course is consumer electronics servicing..i want i need very information from ur invention sir,,tnx GODBLESS

  14. solar power 78006 solar power 78006 Companies lists Texas Solar Juice Call Texas Solar Juice today for more information about solar power 78006.

  15. Obama wants to complain about the price of food, but the bio-fuel legislation he is one of the biggest causes of those high prices.

    If Obama wants to fix the economy, he needs to get rid of the costly entitlement programs of this nation that eat up almost half of the entire US budget.

    I love how he wants to make home foreclosures the problem of the federal government. People were foolish enough to borrow more than they could afford, on a high interest blame Washington

  16. Solar movies are currently the craze on the net but the most crucial solar movies are those that plainly reveal to you the most effective method to use solar power has to be to build your dwelling as a passive solar building depending on your local climate.

    Climate Sensible Designs Solar Movie

    Introducing Climate Sensible Designs […]
    A post from: New Mexico Home Insurance

  17. !!> T-2833 Compact Charger with 24 Tenergy Nicd AA 1000mAh Batteries for Solar power, Solar Light Malibu etc Online Shopping

  18. eves pastremers says:

    Solar power has been around for decades, but it has failed to become widely popular. This will change as energy …

  19. nurman mrsterlani says:

    Plants may lead to form of alternative energy
    UT Daily Beacon
    Bruce feels that we could use the hydrogen that the system produces as a new alternative energy source. Bruce ran his catalytic system for 90 days without any loss of activity. “We’re talking about a pretty robust system that could work,” Bruce said.

  20. I used asians as an example. saying, just because a black person is black mean stupid and they want to steal your belongings. clearly the stupid one. And spelt blatant*
    BTW, the ignorant one.

  21. RED BANK, NJ–(Marketwire – Feb 15, 2012) – TGI SOLAR POWER GROUP INC. (PINKSHEETS: TSPG) ( a diversified energy company, is pleased to announce that after close to twelve months of negotiations, it has finalized an Agreement with Olagenesis Corp The Agreement calls for Olagenesis to assign its license and rights it acquired from Medizinische Hochschule Hannover, a non-profit research and teaching institution located in Hannover, Germany to NANOREGEN in exchange of consideration.

  22. margrimamo cermangels says:

    Test Ride Electric Cars For Free: AAA gave the public a wide taste of what 6 alternative energy cars have to off… –

  23. flins wister says:

    Nothing will bring down the price of a limited resource. Soon it will become cheaper to switch to alternative energy.

  24. Abu $600m solar power plant to be completed this year: Abu Dhabi Solar plant Shams 1 will be completed b…

  25. sherichish says:

    Coller Capital Targets $40 Million of Wind, Solar Power Deals: By Louise Downing on March 29, 2012 The former pr…

  26. casserol shamiand says:

    Go to the source, Solar Power, Goonoo Goonoo Rd and do a piece on what is happening to give the more than just 1hr off

  27. husnalene ikenne says:

    Some people need to learn to use their indoor voice on the bus. But good to learn about alternative energy.

  28. nabkirkhal ponagi says:

    Casio Men’s AWGM100B-1ACR G-Shock Tough Solar Power Atomic Watch
    Buy new: $150.00
    2 used & new from $150.00
    (Visit the Hot New Releases in Watches list for authoritative information on this product’s current rank.)

  29. lan serth says:

    Wallmonkeys Peel and Stick Wall Decals – Wind Turbine for Alternative Energy by the Water – 18″W x 12″H Removabl…

  30. brunk mat says:

    Learn more about how drops in cost when we take advantage of the heat in other ways like hot water

  31. “Winning the Energy Wars” Includes 3-Step Action Plan
    Energy Digital (press release)
    DENVER, CO–(Marketwire – June 29, 2012) – Energy is at the of America’s biggest problems, says R. Paul Williamson, former executive director of Hydrogen and Alternative Research and Development for the University of Montana and author of …

  32. lappn carrinatto says:

    and claim to be from the “the chosen race.”The cross, well… They wanted to use an alternative energy to light up the sky. SMFH!

  33. bazia bengle says:

    New Blog Post: Wayne Cpm – Wayne Cpm So glad to see you here at Wine on and if thi…

  34. mareely afax says:

    Lighting is all over the place, and it’s really more common then you might notice. It truly is necessary to contemplate lighting fixtures which are both alluring to view as well as cost effective to use. A bit of awareness goes a long way in choosing the best lighting for your home. Thankfully, by using a few simple tips you’ll be equipped to pick the best light fixtures for your house. one popular method of providing light for your home is with a chandelier. In a house, they are generally situated in the front foyer. Over a dinner table is also a fantastic location to showcase a chandelier. One factor you will see that’s typical in practically every chandelier, is that its structure typically involves pieces of glass and little lights. …Lighting, Lights, Lamps, Light Fixtures, Home Renovation, Home Decor, Lighting Installation, Solar Power Lighting

  35. boadwell says:

    they will also rise when oil ect runs out or is harder to extract, what alternative energy would you use? or what new policies

  36. sopawameyk says:

    Ohio in top 10 for clean-energy jobs
    The Buckeye State ranked sixth in terms of the clean-energy projects announced and the jobs that come with them. From April to June, the state announced four new alternative-energy projects, with the potential to create 712 jobs throughout the state, …
    and more »

  37. Don’t talk to me if you bring up Solyndra. Alternative energy sources are 100% necessary to keep this planet going.

  38. #
    HQRP Solar Power Controller 10Amp 150W with Digital LED Display plus HQRP UV Chain / UV Radiation Health Tester

  39. radelapea orgine says:

    – Since Obama arrived 6 Trillion $$$ Deficit Increase, more jobs and homes lost, and a Billion wasted on solar power.

  40. Fox too obsessed w/ Solyndra to note U.S. on track to install as much photovoltaic solar power this yr as last decade: …

  41. Elenco Solar Deluxe Educational Kit: Catch Some Rays And teach a kid (8 and up) the basics of solar power. Thi…

  42. pinovict nier says:

    Renewable sector Top News: ‘Bijli Box’ lights homes in rural UP with solar power; OMC Power is supplying power to 3K

  43. VIDEO: Interview with Josh from Greenpeace who has been running the Solar Power truck since day 2 in … –

  44. compo foglio says:

    news gt -> Empowering Women to Light Up Guatemala with Solar Power – Staugnews: Empowering Women to Light Up Gua…

  45. “We’re going to harness the undying wind of the Netherworld screaming through a to turn a turbine.” Now THAT’s an alte …

  46. dumagne elstropour says:

    German CG advises promotion of alternative energy, infrastructure
    Pakistan Observer
    The program with a keynote address by Dr. Tilo Klinner, Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany. Dr. Klinner is keen to promote infrastructure development and alternative energy exploration in Pakistan in collaboration with German firms.
    and more »

  47. Green Living – How to Get More Power From Your Solar Panels: If you are using solar power to cover or even just…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *