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A leaf is the part of a plant that is green in color. Food processing in plants via the leaf is known as photosynthesis. This process involves the use of light by plant leaves to produce energy. This energy can be transformed into food for the plant. The use of light enhances production of oxygen and hydrogen water components (English 1). This process takes place in a real leaf. In the recent past, Scientists have discovered ways of making a leaf using synthetic material. This artificial leaf assumes the function of the real leaf.
Artificial leaf is made of electronic elements that help accelerate reaction processes. The components of an artificial leaf include silicon, a catalyst in this case “EMIM-BF4” and electronics (English 1). In the real leaf, the energy from sunlight is used to split water’s oxygen and hydrogen components. In this new research, the main focus is on production of light energy rather than making food products like in the plant leaves. Since natural leaf involves use of carbon dioxide, a device that imitates the work of carbon dioxide utilization was invented.
The research for an artificial leaf has been a dream come true for a renown scientist by the name Daniel Nocera an MIT professor. Together with his research team, Nocera had a vision for the developing countries (Woods 1). The inexpensive power source was to be used to light up houses in up country in the developing countries.
Although Boulder, Colorado was the first person to create an artificial leaf, his invention was not exploited due to its high cost. Professor Nocera came up with his research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. He was working as a chemist then (Woods 1).
Function of the Artificial Leaf
The main function of the artificial leaf is to produce fuel. This is done by capturing solar energy from the sun using materials that attract or capture energy. In real plants, chlorophyll is the component used to convert light energy into food energy (English 2).
As for the artificial leaf, there are media that have to be put together for the efficient functioning of the leaf. For the leaf to do its function there should be water, sunlight and of course a catalyst that will increase the rate of reaction for high fuel production. The process is described as follows;-
First, the artificial leaf is placed in a clear container, for example a glass containing water. The glass of water is then place in a region where there is direct light from the sun. This is because the main source of energy to be converted is from the sun. The leaf contains silicon material. These contain solar cells which are used to produce required electrical power or energy to drive the whole process.
The outer part of the leaf is coated with a reaction accelerator, in this case a cobalt reaction accelerator or catalyst (Woods 1). This helps to release oxygen molecules from water. On the other side of the leaf is another type of catalyst used to release hydrogen component of water. This is process is analogous to water splitting in real leaf of a living plant.
Artificial leaf has been shown to produce fuel that can produce electric energy indirectly. This is analogous to solar panels. The fuel generated is stored in a fuel cell. The fuel cell is then used to produce electricity.
The electric energy from artificial leaf is very economical. This is enhanced by use of low price catalysts (Woods 1). The low price catalysts have been known to be cobalt and nickel. These can be combined to form a catalyst alloy. The energy from this artificial leaf is renewable. Hence, this can solve the issue of less energy that is sourced from non renewable oil products.
The energy production by use of artificial leaf is very reliable. There is no use of bulky materials or construction of expensive converters. It is one of the simplest forms of energy sources. The only required materials are silicon material, catalyst of cobalt and nickel and an alloy metal catalyst of nickel, molybdenum and zinc (Woods 1). In addition there is need of a glass of water and solar energy. These materials are very inexpensive including solar energy which is free of charge.
The invention of the artificial leaf is a big step in the science world. This will be significant in solving the recurrent problems of global warming and depleting non renewable energy sources. Therefore, every country should adopt this new invention.
English, Philip. “ Converting Water into Fuel by Artificial Leaf”. Cosmos Magazine. 2011: 1-2. Print.
Woods, Michael. The first Practical Artificial Leaf. American chemical Society, 2011. Web.