Print 9 comment(s) - last by maugrimtr.. on Apr 10 at 9:37 AM

Artificial leaf gets some new tricks to make it more functional

Scientists have created what they have called the world's first practical "artificial leaf." The goal of the leaf is to supply electricity in developing nations and remote areas without access to power.

Two important new features have been added to the artificial leaf including the ability to self-heal damage and to produce energy from dirty water. Daniel G. Nocera, Ph.D., a scientist working on the project, says that the artificial leaf mimics the ability of a real leaf to create energy from sunlight and water.
The artificial leaf actually looks nothing like a real leaf and is instead made of a catalyst-coated wafer of silicon.

Nocera's artificial leaf doesn't look like these real leaves, but it looks to mimic their self-healing properties. [Image Source: imgbase]

When the catalyst-coated wafer is dropped into a jar of water and exposed to sunlight, the catalysts in the device break water down into hydrogen and oxygen. Those gases bubble out of the water and can then be collected for use as fuel for a fuel cell to produce electricity.

"It's kind of like providing 'fast-food energy,'" Nocera noted. "We're interested in making lots of inexpensive units that may not be the most efficient, but that get the job done. It's kind of like going from huge mainframe computers to a personal laptop. This is personalized energy."

Their artificial leaf also promises to be cheaper to produce than some similar products that used costly metals and other materials. The artificial leaf is also expected to be inexpensive to mass-produce.
Researchers from North Carolina State University have also been working on artificial leaves in the past.

Source: Science Daily

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By Ammohunt on 4/9/2013 1:01:20 PM , Rating: 3
Do it will work in dirty water but how much dirty water is there that will allow sunlight through? Also what is the energy source? i.e. what gets used up the catalyst?

RE: Curious
By TheEinstein on 4/9/2013 3:08:52 PM , Rating: 3
Yeah the catalyst is the key.

Or did they produce a different sort of perpetual motion device? *hides tinfoil hat*

RE: Curious
By DNAgent on 4/9/2013 8:52:48 PM , Rating: 2
I think the sunlight *is* the catalyst...or maybe the energy in the sunlight simply excites a molecule on the wafer that then acts as a catalyst and can then be re-excited by more sunlight. Seems like a really cool idea.

RE: Curious
By maugrimtr on 4/10/2013 9:37:17 AM , Rating: 2
At the risk of stating the obvious, the energy source is the big ball of nuclear fire we orbit which irradiates the entire planet with electromagmetic waves that can, through various processes, be converted into electricity.

Unfortunately, the source of the story is a lecture so I can't track down the catalyst used. The "leaf" has a catalyst surface over the silicon that self-repairs (i.e. it resists bacterial colonization when used in "dirty water" that would damage most cheap catalysts). The catalyst itself deserves its own story when more information about it can be located. It has to be self sustaining, cheap, and effective without using precious or rare earth materials.

Developing countrys?
By HostileEffect on 4/9/2013 4:41:08 PM , Rating: 2
"The goal of the leaf is to supply electricity in developing nations and remote areas without access to power."

So... why don't they just use a coal plant, hydro, wind, natural gas, or something else more readily available rather than trying to build, or have American build, something that runs on fancy hydrogen producing leaves? How much hydrogen can these things pump out since its meant for personal rural energy?

If the price is right and its competitive with solar then I may be interested in it myself for electrical self sufficiency.

RE: Developing countrys?
By Fujikoma on 4/9/2013 7:20:47 PM , Rating: 2
Cost/benefit. There may not be a dense enough population to build. The area may be politically unstable... which means you don't want to build something just to have some warlord 'nationalize' it. Geography may prevent large structures. This would allow for quicker and easier setups in war torn areas or in sparsely populated places where mobility is paramount.

RE: Developing countrys?
By Solandri on 4/9/2013 8:39:47 PM , Rating: 2
Close. The low cost of coal, hydro, gas, etc. is based on the pre-existing power distribution and raw material transportation grid. Things which were paid for decades ago and thus are essentially free today in a modern developed country. Take those away and prices start to skyrocket.

Hawaii for example has a modern electrical grid. But their location means any coal/oil that's burned must be shipped in. That raises their average electrical rate to over $0.40/kWh compared to the national average of $0.12/kWh. The price is high enough to make wind power a sure bet, and solar viable in some locations.

Now imagine a third world country which not only doesn't have an established transportation system, they don't even have an electrical grid. These snall, independent power generating stations become even more cost-effective then. It's similar to how cell phones have been quickly adopted in developing countries without landline service. The cost to lay down the landlines actually makes it more expensive than the cell phone networks.

RE: Developing countrys?
By mike66 on 4/9/2013 7:39:28 PM , Rating: 2
So... why don't they just use a coal plant, hydro, wind, natural gas, or something else more readily available

Because you have to maintain and repair them. WHO many years ago tried putting hand driven water pumps in some remote desert areas, seemed like a great idea at the time, when they broke, the local people did not have access to parts to repair them or even the basic knowledge how on they functioned to try to make there own repair part or even the material to repair them.

Specs? Price?
By Manch on 4/9/2013 11:34:50 AM , Rating: 2
Seems pretty cool but I'd like details and price. Maybe a buy one donate one scheme like they did with those soccer balls?

"Nowadays you can buy a CPU cheaper than the CPU fan." -- Unnamed AMD executive
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