`Artificial leaf` can power households cheaply

The leaf mimics photosynthesis process by which green plants convert sunlight and water into energy.

Updated: Mar 28, 2011, 11:54 AM IST

Washington: The first practical `artificial leaf`, an advanced, next generation solar cell as big as a poker card, can produce power for households at a cheaper price.

The leaf mimics the photosynthesis process by which green plants convert sunlight and water into energy.

"A practical artificial leaf has been one of the Holy Grails of science for decades," said Daniel Nocera, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who led the research team.

"We believe we have done it. The artificial leaf shows particular promise as an inexpensive source of electricity for homes of the poor in developing countries. Our goal is to make each home its own power station," he said, according to an MIT statement.

"One can envision villages in India and Africa not long from now purchasing an affordable basic power system based on this technology."

The device looks like a poker card -- and not like an actual leaf. It is fashioned from silicon, electronics and catalysts, substances that accelerate chemical reactions.

Placed in a single gallon of water in a bright sunlight, the device can produce enough power for a house in a developing country for a day, Nocera said. It does so by splitting water into its two components -- hydrogen and oxygen.

The hydrogen and oxygen gases would be stored in a fuel cell, which uses those two materials to produce power, located either on top of the house or besides it.

Nocera points out that the first "artificial leaf" was developed by John Turner of the US National Renewable Energy Lab in Colorado, it was highly unstable, hence impractical.

Nocera`s new leaf overcomes these problems. It is made of inexpensive materials that are widely available, works under simple conditions and is highly stable.

These findings were presented at the 241st National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.