Researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are developing a new bionic leaf that can convert energy from sunlight into an energy-dense fuel, imitating the photosynthetic process of plants. We’ve covered the artificial leaf concept before but aside from using a cool new name (bionic leaf sounds much cooler than artificial leaf, right?) the Berkeley project represents a new twist on the technology that could lead to far greater efficiencies.
The Artificial Leaf Concept
Whether you call it an artificial leaf or a bionic leaf, the basic concept is relatively simple. Instead of using a photovoltaic cell to generate electricity directly from sunlight, you deploy a chemical reaction that stores solar energy in the form of hydrogen, which you can then use in a hydrogen fuel cell to generate electricity.
Bionic leaf courtesy of Berkeley Lab.
That sunlight-to-hydrogen chain means you can store solar energy indefinitely, potentially in huge quantities, so think of it as a kind of battery and you’re on the right track. The fuel cell connection means that the intermittent nature of solar energy is not an issue, and neither is its resistance to mobility.
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