As far as sustainable energy systems go, nothing is quite as perfect as a plant: Throughphotosynthesis, plants create their own energy using only sunlight and water. For years, scientists have been trying to replicate this process to produce usable energy for people, but it’s proved difficult–until now. A group of Chinese researchers think they’ve come up with a blueprint for an “Artificial Inorganic Leaf” (AIL) that can produce hydrogen fuel using only sunlight and water. The “leaf” is still in its very early design stages, but if scientists can create a working prototype, the world may finally see a cost-effective method of hydrogen fuel production.
Future “Artificial Leaves” May Create Hydrogen Fuel from Sunlight and Water
Scientists from the State Key Lab of Matrix Composites at China’s Shanghai Jiaotong Universitydesigned the AIL blueprint using biomimicry. By using spectroscopic techniques to study leaves of Anemone vitifolia, a plant native to China, scientists gained a better understanding of how to focus and guide solar energy into light-harvesting sections of the leaf. Plus, they learned more about the macro- and microstructures of plants’ photocatalysts. By infiltrating leaves with titanium dioxide (a photocatalyst) and platinum, researchers believe they’ve created a design for a fully functioning AIL.
Creating hydrogen fuel means splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen (electrolysis). While scientists have achieved this feat before, making hydrogen fuel has been exceedingly expensive, so it wouldn’t really be practical when compared to powering cars with gasoline or electricity. But by using sunlight with the AIL, scientists may finally create a cheap way to produce hydrogen fuel. Unlike traditional cars, which spew tons of greenhouse gas emissions, hydrogen-powered vehicles emit only water vapor.
H2Station® CAR-200 has a new dispenser that provides up to 100 kilograms of hydrogen in three hours using a fueling hose similar to those at conventional gas stations. This means that up to sevenfuel-cell cars can be filled in an hour.
The company has yet to reveal the cost of these stations, but has announced U.S. deliveries will take place later this year. At least 10 stations have been installed in Europe by H2 Logic. In the U.S., the number of hydrogen refueling stations is rising, but still falls far behind gas stations (115,000 gas compared to 29 hydrogen refueling stations).