Could an Artificial Leaf Be a New Energy Source?

artificial photosynthesisFoliage for the Future?

For years, hydrogen has been considered a viable source of energy and there have been many ways to produce (and try to produce) it. Since pure hydrogen doesn’t exist in nature, it takes a lot of time and energy to produce, which is why the source has been slow to popularize.

Recently, however, members from Arizona State University and Chicago’s Argonne National Laboratory teamed up to study photosynthesis – the way that leaves absorb sunlight and turn it into oxygen. Because hydrogen can produce large amounts of energy in the company of oxygen, they created an artificial leaf that could mimic photosynthesis.

The creation wasn’t easy, however, and took a few attempts. In an article by International Business Times, ASU chemistry professor Thomas Moore said, “Initially, our artificial leaf did not work very well… [the] step where a fast chemical reaction had to interact with a slow chemical reaction was not efficient.”

This fast reaction refers to the process of light energy converting to chemical energy; the slow reaction refers to the process of chemical energy converting water into hydrogen and oxygen. In order for the end result to be successful, both processes have to work together at the right pace.

After looking into the mistake, the team found an intermediate step that the leaf uses that they had missed. Once it was corrected, the scientists were able to produce hydrogen from an artificial plant.

Who knows – if a large amount can be made and the process is cost-effective, we could build leaf farms to provide our hydrogen. Hydrogen would reduce our reliance on imported oil and can be used as a cleaner alternative to petroleum without producing any carbon emissions.

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