There have been several attempts in the past to turn sunlight and water into hydrogen, but the unstable and expensive creations turned out to be hardly worth the effort. However, this new device by MIT chemist Daniel Nocera, the “artificial leaf,” could hold a lot more promise.
The artificial leaf is actually a piece of silicon coated with two catalysts. When sunlight shines in, it splits and separates the water into oxygen and hydrogen bubbles. The hydrogen would then be stored to use in a fuel cell to create electricity, providing a new and cheap way to harness energy from the sun.
Nocera first announced the technology in 2011, and has since published a follow-up paper on the improved efficiency and future challenges his team has yet to face. A field trial is now in the works, and the plan is to build a commercial device for developing countries. His dream is to use the device to provide people in poor nations with “their first 100 watts of energy.” That’s a pretty ambitious goal, and very encouraging for countries with little to no grid connectivity.
Image: Snapshot from MIT News video