Hydrogen Economy Turns Over A New (Artificial) Leaf

The artificial leaf sure sounds like a contradiction in terms. And yet, such a thing has long been sought after by scientists with an eye on a very important prize: the clean, green, oh-so-abundant hydrogen economy. After all, leaves do something that we can’t (yet), which is capture solar energy and use it efficiently to change water into hydrogen fuel, via photosynthesis.

In a report scheduled for the 239th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) being held in San Francisco this week, researchers from the State Key Lab of Matrix Composites at Shanghai Jiaotong University, Shanghai, China, are slated to unveil their blueprint for artificial leaf-like structures based on titanium dioxide (TiO2), a chemical already recognized as a photocatalyst for hydrogen production.  Their process involves stepping up hydrogen production in the Ti02 eightfold by a “biotemplating” the material on the real leaves–in this case the leaves of the Anemone vitifolia, a plant native to China.


image via American Chemical Society

The implications for the development of a hydrogen economy are manifold, as using sunlight to split water into its components–hydrogen and oxygen–is one of the most promising and sustainable tactics for producing the clean-burning fuel on a meaningful scale. With the great appeal of that being, sometime in the (hopefully) near future, there’ll be nothing more than innocuous water vapor emerging from your tailpipe.

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Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.

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