In the race to find renewable energy, a new "artificial leaf" prototype device has been created that turns the sun's energy into hydrogen fuel.
The prototype could pave the way for commercially viable devices that use artificial photosynthesis. Indeed, the team behind the device is aiming to create a commercial version in the future. Nate Lewis, a professor of chemistry at Caltech, led the team.
The technology uses solar energy to split water, making hydrogen that can be used for storing energy or for fuel. The device uses a photovoltaic material to capture photons and generate electrons, which are then passed to chemical catalysts that split the water.
In order to make the technology viable on a commercial level, the system needs to be efficient, inexpensive, safe and stable, according to Lewis. While previous technologies have been able to demonstrate efficiency, they lacked the stability.
"Nothing is close, in terms of efficiency and stability and safety all combined at once, to what we've done here," said Lewis in an interview with the MIT Technology Review.
Of course, this kind of technology could completely change the game when it comes to finding renewable energy sources. The technology could be better than solar panels because it can easily store fuel rather than simply providing intermittent energy. Creating technology like this, however, poses several significant technological challenges, and requires getting multiple technologies and materials to work together.
The system, which has been in the works for a total of five years, is a project of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis. It received $122 million in funding from the federal government in 2010 and will soon be getting new funding.
There is still a ways to go before the technology is cheap enough to be sold commercially. This development, however, shows that highly efficient, stable artificial photosynthesis is possible.
Photo: Aleksey Gnilenkov | Flickr