Hydrogen energy the chloroplast way: solar-to-fuel with the artificial leaf

Gigaom

With atmospheric carbon dioxide recently hitting a record 400 parts per million, the discovery of alternative renewable energy sources has taken on added urgency. One effort is the so-called “artificial leaf,” a photosynthetic system that uses light energy to split water molecules and produce hydrogen. Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab have recently published details of their new nanowire-based system that mimics the way plant chloroplasts transport charged particles.

The artificial leaf’s titanium dioxide and silicon nanowires are arranged in an array that actually resembles a microscopic forest of straight pines. The key to achieving good solar-to-fuel conversion efficiency is the integration of the components — the nanowire semiconductors that absorb light, an interfacial layer, and co-catalysts for the water splitting reaction — in a structure that resembles and functions like a chloroplast.

Plants are so efficient at turning sunlight into sugars partly because of what is termed the…

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