Scientists may have created an affordable solution for those who live without electricity.
The invention is an artificial leaf, and it is powered by an advanced solar cell that mimics photosynthesis (the process green plants use to convert sunlight and water into energy.)
The device is the size of a playing card and is made from silicon, electronics and catalysts – all inexpensive materials that are widely available and highly stable. These substances also help to accelerate chemical reactions that otherwise would not occur.
When placed in a gallon of water in sunlight, the device could produce enough electricity to supply a household in a developing country for an entire day. Each home would thus become its own power station.
The power comes from splitting water into components, hydrogen and water. The two different gases would be stored in a fuel cell located either on the roof or beside the house, and it would use the two materials to produce electricity.
Right now the artificial leaf is ten times more efficient at carrying out photosynthesis than a natural leaf, and scientists believe they can boost its efficiency in the future.
This innovative research was presented at the 241st National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.
Check out this video about a similar sunlight-harnessing technology that is being developed at the California Institute of Technology:
Image: Marcy Reiford / flickr