Scientists from Caltech have developed a new type of leaf coating that could help transform sunlight to fuel in the near future. The process is just in its birth stage, but this new type of coating is a key step into achieving an artificial leaf that will capture sunlight and turn it into fuel.
The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and it revealed that an electrically conductive film could help devices that use sunlight split water into hydrogen fuel.
Nathan Lewis, co-author of the study and researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) said in a statement that he and his colleagues have developed a new type of protective coating that makes possible a key process in the production of fuels that are solar-driven. With the help of this coating, the process is now more efficient, more stable and effective than anything similar that has been done until now and it is also much safer and does not yield explosive mixture of oxygen and hydrogen.
The team from Caltech believes that this new coating is a piece of a much bigger puzzle that could lead to systems that are photosynthetic, or artificial leaves that capture sunlight, water and CO2 and transform them into oxygen and fuel.
The incipient artificial leaf that the Caltech team created consists of two electrodes: a photocathode and a photoanode. The photoanode uses sunlight to create protons, oxygen gas and electrons and the photocathode takes those electrons and protons to form hydrogen gas. The membrane of the artificial leaf keeps the two cases from mixing and thus reducing the chance of explosion.
Lewis stated that the coating of the artificial leaf needs to be impermeable to water, electrically conductive, transparent to incoming light and above all, chemically compatible with the element it is trying to protect. He continued:
Creating a protective layer that displayed any one of these attributes would be a significant leap forward, but what we’ve now discovered is a material that can do all of these things at once.
While this present discovery is indeed amazing and it does have the potential to change the way fuel is produces, there is still a long road ahead and many steps in the system need to be perfected.
Image Source: Wikipedia