One of the things green energy proponents eagerly look forward to is an “artificial leaf”: a truly small, portable, modular photosynthetic power plant. The ability to take a hundred or a thousand such units and plaster them on a wall, roof, tree, or whatever, and have them store power in a simple fuel cell all day long would be a great way to make power distribution less tricky in countries where there aren’t exactly power lines running everywhere.
MIT’s Daniel Nocera has apparently made a major advance just recently, producing an artificial leaf that not only uses cheap materials, but is ten times as efficient as a real leaf at the photosynthesis process.
The technology simulates photosynthesis by using sunlight to split water into hydrogen and oxygen; only a short while ago did Nocera manage to create a system, using a “proprietary solution of cobalt and phosphate,” that was able to convert sunlight at a better efficiency than solar cells. It can use dirty water, too, unlike some existing electrolysis/fuel cell solutions.
His study has only just been submitted to Science, and has not been reviewed or replicated, but that didn’t seem to matter to Tata, the Indian industrial giant, who have decided to work with Nocera — presumably to manufacture and distribute the system in India. With lots of sun and a huge population, it’s a natural fit.
Of course right now there’s very little information, no paper, and no pictures, so let’s all just take this info with a grain of salt and wait until we hear more.