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Playing-card sized artificial “solar leaf” turns sunlight into energy

An MIT research team has created a functioning artificial leaf. Team leader Dr Daniel Nocera (pictured here) believes his playing-card sized silicon and catalyst solar cell can power a house in a developing country for a day using 3.79 liters of water.

The artificial leaf mimics photosynthesis using inexpensive nickel and cobalt catalysts to perform electrolysis, splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen. The researchers claim this device converts energy up to ten times more efficiently than a natural leaf.

The oxygen and hydrogen can either be passed through a fuel cell to generate electricity, or burned to generate heat. All the leaf needs is water and sunlight, and it will work for at least 45 hours without degrading in performance according to testing done in the lab.

To demonstrate its stability, the MIT team was able to operate the leaf continuously for 45 hours without a drop in activity.

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