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Artificial Leaf Nearing Completion

Researchers are close to completing the development of an artificial leaf that could generate hydrogen.

The leaf would run on solar power and convert water into hydrogen and oxygen efficiently. The goal of the project is to create a viable renewable energy as part of the BISfuel initiative by the Energy Frontier Research Center — a company funded by the Dept. of Energy.

“Initially, our artificial leaf did not work very well, and our diagnostic studies indicated that a step where a fast chemical reaction had to interact with a slow chemical reaction was not efficient,” said ASU chemistry professor Thomas Moore.

The researchers took a closer look at the experiment, and found that nature had used an intermediate step.

“The intermediate step involved a relay for electrons in which one half of the relay interacted with the fast half in an optimal way to satisfy it, and the other half of the relay then had time to do the slow step of water oxidation in an efficient way.”

Using the natural relay as a starting point, the team developed an artificial relay, and discovered a major improvement on the original model. Now that the system has been improved in a large way, the team better understands how the natural process works.

Future plans for the artificial leaf are uncertain, but the results discovered in this research are very real, and are hoped to be put to use creating food, fuel, and fiber that is increasingly in demand around the world.

There’s no time-frame as of yet on when we might see this artificial leaf experiment executed, but the team is optimistic that the day is “near”.

These next few years of R&D are huge for solar power, as well as other renewable energies, but with solar power being the most widely used and best researched, it’s safe to say that the demand will increase for better and more efficient systems such as the one provided by the artificial leaf experiment.

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