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Artificial Leaves: Combining photocatalysis and Photovoltaics

Emerson Coy
Editorial Board

Silicon technology is widely used in most of the electronic and photovoltaic applications to date, it has, however, been overlooked for any photocalalytic applications mainly due to the silicon high corrosion in aqueous solutions. Protective coatings and passivation layers, although very successful on avoiding corrosion, tend to inhibit the potential application of silicon in photocalysis, due to the intrinsic separation of the active interface of silicon and the aqueous environment. However, the significant overlap of the silicon bad gap with the solar spectrum, along with its relatively low cost, compatibility with every day electronics and lack of toxicity, still makes this semiconductor an appealing option for photochemical processes. Nevertheless, even with the promising rewards of such development, very few breakthroughs had been observed in this field. This is where the research of Prof. Daniel Nocera, now professor of energy at Harvard University, came along. Bringing a revolutionary, inexpensive and very efficient way of storing energy using silicon and water, two of the most common elements on earth. The “artificial leaf” as it was named, stores energy in the form of hydrogen and oxygen gas, two powerful fuels.

In simple terms, the “sandwich” between cobalt phosphate, silicon and a nickel-zinc alloy promotes the creation of both, oxygen and hydrogen gas. The gas is generated as long as the artificial leaf is exposed to the light source, with its bubbles rapidly disappearing after being removed from it. The typical photosynthesis process, observed in plants, has an efficiency of 1%, while the “artificial leaf ”of Prof. Nocera has reached the 7%, leading to a great commotion in the renewable energy community. Although commercial applications of hydrogen and oxygen gas are yet far from any everyday application, the artificial leaf has promoted an intensive development and research in the hydrogen fuel cells field, aiming to profit from the simplicity, yet elegance, of the artificial leaf. For further information please refer to the following references.

The artificial leaf that could power the world http://edition.cnn.com/2014/04/28/tech/innovation/the-artificial-leaf-power-solar-electricity/
Nocera, D. The Artificial Leaf. Acc. Chem. Res. 45, 767 (2012).


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One response to “Artificial Leaves: Combining photocatalysis and Photovoltaics”

  1. lokal call says:

    Its like you read my mind! You appear to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a bit, but instead of that, this is fantastic blog. A fantastic read. I’ll definitely be back.|

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