MM Blog: A More Efficient Bionic Leaf

A look at a bionic leaf that is more efficient at producing energy from water and sunlight.

For years now, researchers have been creating artificial leaves that mimic the ability of their natural counterparts. Now, scientists at Harvard University have developed the “bionic leaf 2.0”. The bionic leaf is placed in water and is able to split water molecules into their component gases, hydrogen and oxygen as it absorbs solar energy. These gases can be harvested and used in fuel cells to generate electricity, but now, with the help of an engineered bacteria, the hydrogen can be used to produce liquid fuels.

The system is able to convert sunlight into biomass with 10 percent efficiency — 10 times that of even the most efficient plants. Researchers have also demonstrated how the system can be used to create different compounds including PHB, a bio-plastic precursor. Additionally, the catalysts used in the process are compatible biologically as they "self heal", so they don't leech material into a solution. While research continues to make bionic leaves even more efficient, the team says it currently works well enough to consider commercial applications. 


Do you think this could lead to an inexpensive renewable energy source? How could manufacturing utilize this research?

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