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Game Changer: World’s First Practical Solar Leaf Unveiled

March 16th, 2011 · No Comments

Game Changer Worlds first practical solar leaf unveiled. Sun Catalytix unveiled the world’s first practical solar leaf during national meeting of American Chemical Society.

The trend towards miniaturization in energy generation and storage continues as researchers from MIT and the technology startup Sun Catalytix unveiled the world’s first practical solar leaf recently during the national meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Dr. Daniel Nocera, professor of Energy and Chemistry at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founder of Sun Catalytix made the announcement on the success of his team in developing the ‘artificial leaf.’ The ‘leaf’ can be used to produce electricity for remote off-grid locations with the goal of making it the power source for an entire household.

Developing this artificial leaf, which essentially recreates the process of photosynthesis in natural leaves, took a full decade to complete. The main problem that scientists faced was the prohibitive costs of materials dampening any hope of mass-produced solar cell leaves. Dr. Nocera’s team successfully worked around this problem by utilizing cheaper materials like nickel and cobalt dramatically increasing the technology’s chances of being mass-produced and marketed. As Dr. Nocera explains:

“A practical artificial leaf has been one of the Holy Grails of science for decades. 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.”

Ordinary solar cells, like the rooftop PV panels we usually see, work by collecting sunlight and directly transforming it into energy. The artificial leaf, in comparison, works much like natural leaves do, by using sunlight combined with water and catalysts to produce energy. Placed in a gallon of water exposed to sunlight, this advanced solar cell (made of silicon, electronics, and catalysts) functions by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen and storing these gases in a fuel cell.

It was reported that an initial model of the artificial leaf worked nonstop for 48 hours without any fluctuations in energy generating activity. It is said to be 10 times more efficient than natural leaves in conducting photosynthesis. This is a clearly a game changer in clean energy generation as it will become possible for people to have energy self-sufficient homes at lesser costs and hassle than traditional rooftop solar panels entail.

Watch: How the artificial leaf works (VIDEO)

We’ve written last week about the exciting new developments in solar power technology and the need for us, both government and private sector, to continue investing in our future through science and technology research and development. The ‘artificial leaf’ technology is one more excellent example of what’s achievable if there’s a focused and sustained effort to develop and support our clean technology sector.

It’s in the early stages of development but there is already a deal between Sun Catalytix and Tata Group of India to shepherd the technology towards mass production and marketing. Incidentally, as we blogged last week, it’s also Tata Group or one of its subsidiaries that made the deal for production of floating solar power plants. I think it’s time for a major American power company that we can all buy into to start acquiring these technologies and prove once and for all, that clean technologies create manufacturing efficiency, jobs, and economic growth. At this stage of the game, it seems that we’re being outplayed by foreign companies riding this great wave of the future.

Tags: Clean Technology