This Man-Made Leaf Could Be The Answer To The World’s Energy Needs


As ingenious as the human mind can be, sometimes the most innovative of ideas are already around us. Take the rather outstanding process of photosynthesis, a plant’s ability to turn carbon dioxide into oxygen, for example. Entirely natural and totally green (pun intended), photosynthesis is the kind of natural process humans should try and mimic when it comes to our own energy needs.

And that’s exactly what a team of chemists and biologists working out of Harvard University have done. But instead of simply recreating the photosynthetic process, the researchers have improved upon the natural phenomenon, inventing a “bionic leaf” that is ten times better at producing energy than a plant leaf.

Fusing biology with technology (hence the “bionic” prefix), the Harvard team of researchers who developed the bionic leaf were led by Chemist Daniel Nocera and biologist Pamela Silver, as noted by Scientific American.

Taking note from nature, the Harvard scientists developed a man-made leaf that is able to absorb solar energy via a photovoltaic panel with the energy then used to deconstruct water into hydrogen and oxygen. From there, the leaf’s internal systems use the left-over hydrogen and CO2 from surrounding air to create an alcohol (e.g. isopropanol, isobutanol) that can function as a fuel.

To get a tad bit more technical, the leaf is able to use up 130 grams of CO2 to create 60 grams of isopropanol fuel. While that may not seem like all that much, the numbers are made a bit more astounding when you realize the bionic leaf is ten times more efficient at producing fuel than a natural leaf enacting photosynthesis.

The applications for such an innovative technology are quite extensive. Given the bionic leaf’s ability to literally pull energy out of the air, one can easily recognize how much of a beneficial impact the device could have on the environment. If produced on a massive scale, the bioreactor could produce clean, renewable energy for large communities or even cities, all without adding any harmful toxins to the atmosphere.

On the same note, the bionic leaf could do wonders for more impoverished communities around the world, those who don’t have an easily accessible energy source. Since the bionic leaf only needs air to create fuel, it can provide energy just about anywhere, even the most remote locations.

For more on the bionic leaf and its internal process of creating energy, head to the Harvard Magazine feature on the new technology here.

Featured image courtesy of: Bluesnap

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