The Tata Group out of India and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor of chemistry Daniel Nocera have signed a deal to develop a commercial version of the artificial leaf to produce hydrogen from sunlight and water.
In April 2010, I had talked about the MIT invention to use a solar panel and the M13 virus to split water and run the hydrogen and oxygen through a fuel cell to create power. The solar panel is the size of a poker card and will help the device, (about the size of a water cooler) to create power for homes in developing nations.
According to ACS, “The device bears no resemblance to Mother Nature’s counterparts on oaks, maples and other green plants, which scientists have used as the model for their efforts to develop this new genre of solar cells. About the shape of a poker card but thinner, the device is fashioned from silicon, electronics and catalysts, substances that accelerate chemical reactions that otherwise would not occur, or would run slowly. Placed in a single gallon of water in a bright sunlight, the device could produce enough electricity to supply a house in a developing country with electricity for a day, Nocera said. It does so by splitting water into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen.
“The hydrogen and oxygen gases would be stored in a fuel cell, which uses those two materials to produce electricity, located either on top of the house or beside it.”
If the device works as billed however, one can also see this artificial photosynthesis device (or one like it) being used as a home hydrogen fueling station. Many times research that happens in a lab is not commercialized for many reasons. This is why this artificial photosynthesis machine is so important and exciting.
MIT plus the company producing the TATA Nano minicar (billed as the world’s cheapest car) is developing a machine to produce hydrogen cheaply and sustainably using only sunlight and water. My mouth is watering right now at the possibilities.