Artificial leaves

‘The best plants are fake ones’ was headline news on 3 May 2011. The newspaper was referring to the ‘artificial leaves’ that are being developed by BioSolar Cells. In these, solar energy is converted directly into fuel at a theoretical efficiency of at least 40%. By 2016 there should be two artificial systems up and running that convert sunlight into hydrogen.

Artificial photosynthesis is going to be the backbone of energy supply

In an interview on the Biobased Society website Huub de Groot, scientific director of BioSolar Cells, predicts that artificial photosynthesis will be fully operational in 2050; 'By that time it will be the backbone of energy supply,’ Huub says. ‘We know from experience that a new technology needs 30 years to come to its full deployment, and that means that by 2020 it would have to make its take-off and come into its phase of exponential growth. Backcasting from 2050, this would mean an installed capacity of 100 MW in 2020 already, eight years from now.’

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Components and models

An artificial leaf consists of three components:
1. A system for capturing sunlight
2. A system for converting captured solar energy into an electrical charge
3. A catalytic system that uses the electrical charge to split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen

In addition, systems and models need to be developed for the design and analysis of prototypes of the
various components of the artificial leaf, and the leaf as a whole.

The movie below shows how the research group of  Daniel Nocera of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed the first prototype of a artificial leaf.

Applied research

The private sector participates in three ‘Utilization projects’:
U1.1: BIOCOMET - Using solar cells for the production of methanol from CO2
U1.2: S2FC: The solar to fuel chip
U1.3: Towards multiscale modelling of thylakoid membranes

Fundamental research

In addition, for the development of artificial leaves, seven more fundamental research projects  are being conducted via the Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter (FOM):

F1.1: Defect engineering at Oxide interfaces: Toward efficient ultra-thin absorber films
F1.2: Nanostructured solar-to-fuel devices
F1.3: Photoelectrochemicval water splitting in srtificial nanostrutured solar converters
F1.4: Engineering surface electrical fields and charge spearation in water-splitting perovskites
F1.5: Nanowire solar energy conversion
F1.6: Photocatalytic water splitting in microfluidic devices
F1.7: Selective photoreduction of CO2 to fuels in a microreactor platform

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