‘Artificial leaf’ that may help generate clean power on the anvil

August 12th, 2009 - 5:49 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Aug 12 (ANI): Researchers at Imperial College London are trying to imitate the process of photosynthesis by making an ‘artificial leaf’ to produce clean power.

Photosynthesis, the process where plants use sunlight to convert water and carbon dioxide into sugar, is the most effective solar energy conversion process on Earth.

And researchers believe that mimicking parts of it could be the ticket to a limitless supply of clean power.

The untapped potential for using the sun’s rays is huge. All human activity for a whole year could be powered by the energy contained in the sunlight hitting the Earth in just one hour.

At Imperial College London, researchers have embarked on a 1-million-pound project to study, and eventually mimic, photosynthesis. Part of a project called the “artificial leaf”, involves working out exactly how leaves use sunlight to make useful molecules.

The team then plans to build artificial systems that can do the same to generate clean fuels such as hydrogen and methanol.

These would then be used in fuel cells to make electricity or directly to power super-clean vehicles without putting the climate in danger.

According to James Barber, a biologist at Imperial College London and leader of the artificial leaf project, if artificial photosynthesis systems could use around 10 percent of the sunlight falling on them, they would only need to cover 0.16 percent of the Earth’s surface to satisfy a global energy needs.

“If the leaf can do it, we can do it but even better,” the Telegraph quoted Barber as telling the Guardian:

“It doesn’t mean that you try to build exactly what the leaf has. Leonardo da Vinci tried to design flying machines with feathers that flapped up and down. But in the end we built 747s and Airbus 380s, completely different to a bird and, in fact, even better than a bird.

“The challenge is to get hydrogen out of water using a ready supply of energy,” Barber added.

Scientists can already produce hydrogen by splitting water but current techniques are expensive, use harsh chemicals and need carefully controlled environments in which to operate.

The critical part of the artificial leaf project is developing catalysts made from cheap materials that can be used to split water in everyday conditions. (ANI)

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