Source: Science Daily
An article in the ACS journal Accounts of Chemical Research includes a detailed description of development of the first practical artificial leaf. This is a significant milestone in the drive for sustainable energy because this design mimics the process, photosynthesis that green plants use to convert water and sunlight into energy using inexpensive materials that are readily available. This design also employs low-cost engineering and manufacturing processes. The article notes that earlier artificial leaf devices used costly ingredients.
The artificial leaf has a sunlight collector sandwiched between two films that generate oxygen and hydrogen gas. When dropped into a jar of water in the sunlight, it bubbles away, releasing hydrogen that can be used in fuel cells to make electricity. These self-contained units are attractive for making fuel for electricity in remote places and the developing world, but designs demonstrated thus far rely on metals like platinum and manufacturing processes that make them cost-prohibitive.
To make these devices more widely available, the platinum catalyst that produces hydrogen gas was replaced with a less-expensive nickel-molybdenum-zinc compound. On the other side of the leaf, a cobalt film generates oxygen gas. All of these materials are abundant on Earth, unlike the rare and expensive platinum, noble metal oxides and semiconducting materials others have used.
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