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Scientists have developed an artificial leaf that absorbs sunlight to generate hydrogen fuel from water, an advance that may provide clean energy for powering eco-friendly cars in the future.

The ultra-thin wireless device mimics plant leaves to produce energy using water and sunlight. “It is known that hydrogen generation from renewable resources will be the ultimate solution to our energy and environment problems,” said Chinnakonda S Gopinath, a senior principal scientist at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)—National Chemical Laboratory in Pune. “Hydrogen burning gives energy and water as a byproduct, underscoring its importance and relevance to the present day world. Though India basked in sunlight, not enough had been done to translate it into energy. This line of research is very relevant to our country. India is blessed with plenty of sunlight through the year that is not exploited significantly to produce energy or hydrogen,” he said.

The device consists of semiconductors stacked in a manner to simulate the natural leaf system. When visible light strikes the semiconductors, electrons move in one direction, producing electric current. The current almost instantaneously splits water into hydrogen—which researchers believe is one of the cleanest forms of fuel as its main byproduct is water. In view of pressing energy and environmental issues, it was important to produce hydrogen from natural resources such as sunlight and water, Gopinath said. “In the present work, we have made an attempt to generate solar hydrogen. The preparation method reported is simple and practicable and hence there is a very good possibility of scaling it up,” he said. The research, published in the Scientific Reports, an online, open-access journal from the publishers of Nature, states that the device of an area of 23 sq. cm could produce 6 litres of hydrogen fuel per hour. “When exposed to sunlight for 25 hours, the device retained its efficiency. The cell does not need any external voltage and performs better than existing solar cells,” he said.


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