JAN 11, 2023 6:00 AM PST

Solar-Powered Leaf Can Convert Air to Hydrogen Fuel

Credit: Pixabay

In a recent study published in Advanced Materials, a team of researchers from the Laboratory for Molecular Engineering of Optoelectronic Nanomaterials (LIMNO) in Switzerland have created an artificial leaf capable of using solar energy to convert air into hydrogen fuel. More specifically, the leaf harvests water from the air, which then utilizes a novel electrode to convert the water into hydrogen fuel. This study holds the potential to expand the field of fossil-free fuels and allow a greener future for all.

"To realize a sustainable society, we need ways to store renewable energy as chemicals that can be used as fuels and feedstocks in industry. Solar energy is the most abundant form of renewable energy, and we are striving to develop economically-competitive ways to produce solar fuels," said Dr. Kevin Sivula of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne’s (EPFL's) Laboratory for Molecular Engineering of Optoelectronic Nanomaterials, and a co-author on the study.

For the study, the researchers used novel gas diffusion electrodes created by Dr. Sivula and his research team and coated them with a light-harvesting semiconductor material. This material acted as an artificial leaf in that it used sunlight to convert the water to hydrogen gas. All told, this research was inspired by how plants use sunlight to convert sunlight into chemical energy.

"Developing our prototype device was challenging since transparent gas-diffusion electrodes have not been previously demonstrated, and we had to develop new procedures for each step,” said Dr. Marina Caretti, who is a safety manager at EPFL, and lead author of the study. “However, since each step is relatively simple and scalable, I think that our approach will open new horizons for a wide range of applications starting from gas diffusion substrates for solar-driven hydrogen production."

The research team stressed that this artificial leaf is merely a prototype, and did not officially examine the solar-to-hydrogen conversion efficiency in their study. Nonetheless, this prototype potentially opens doors for a fossil-free future.

Sources: Advanced Materials

As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Laurence Tognetti is a six-year USAF Veteran who earned both a BSc and MSc from the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Laurence is extremely passionate about outer space and science communication, and is the author of "Outer Solar System Moons: Your Personal 3D Journey".
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