A new bionic leaf was designed by researchers at Harvard University and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and promises to convert solar energy into liquid fuel. The newly developed artificial leaf creates oxygen and hydrogen.
Afterwards a bacteria called Ralstonia eutropha, consumes the hydrogen and converts it into protons and electrons, which are integrated into molecules of carbon dioxide as part of the bacteria’s reproductive cycle. Ralstonia eutropha has the ability to trigger a reaction between hydrogen and carbon dioxide in order to generate a biofuel known as isopropanol.
This new energy approach uses the bacteria to convert sunlight into fuel efficiently, thus creating a smart synthesis between artificial technology and biology.
“This is a proof of concept that you can have a way of harvesting solar energy and storing it in the form of a liquid fuel… we had a mission of wanting to interface some kinds of organisms with the harvesting of solar energy. It was a perfect match,”
said Pamela Silver from the Wyss Institute.
In other words the newly discovered bionic leaf imitates the process of photosynthesis. But the creation of this artificial leaf system was span over a decade long process. The catalysts used in the device are highly well-adapted and are also compatible with the conditions required for the bacterial growth.
Right now the artificial leaf has 1% efficiency rate regarding the creating of isopropanol as the efficiency rate is currently equal to the natural process in which photosynthesis turns sunlight into biomass. But the researchers are hoping they will reach 5% efficiency with the bionic leaf in a short time.
By and large, homes and businesses are likely to be powered by solar cells in the future, and vehicles will be powered by liquid fuel generated by bionic leafs. The research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) this week, talks about how the limitations of the artificial leaf were eventually overcome.
Actually Daniel Nocera initially pioneered an artificial leaf back in 2011, but the device was not ready for commercial production because of the lack of systems in place meant to collect, store and use the hydrogen gases produced by the leaf.