Scientists are working on creating artificial leaves that can produce fuel from sunlight, water and carbon dioxide - which means, they'll be like real leaves. The only difference is we can use them to power our homes.
They're using the principals from nature - photosynthesis, etc - to design the artificial leaf. According to the NY Times, the artificial leaves "will probably be thin sheets of plastic embedded with light-absorbing materials, or sheets of bubble-wrap-like material".
Artificial leaves have existed for a while but they've been fragile, expensive or simply inefficient. But scientists believe they can build an effective system... in time. One example was demonstrated by Daniel Nocera, from MIT:
The leaf is made of inexpensive materials and works with ordinary water, he said. For the demonstration, he used a slim piece of silicon about the size of a playing card. The silicon was coated with catalysts, created by him and his group, that speed the breakdown of water into hydrogen and oxygen.
"On one side of the silicon, hydrogen starts bubbling up, and oxygen bubbles up on the other side," Dr. Nocera said.
The catalysts are placed directly on the silicon, so no extensive wiring is needed, as in standard photovoltaic cells, to convert sunlight into current and break down the water into hydrogen and oxygen. No extensive membrane is required, either. He plans to collect and use the hydrogen as a fuel.
As cool as artificial trees powering individual homes sound, I'll sure as hell miss watching the leaves fall off in autumn and sprout up in spring. I guess this kind of futuristic green is better than natural green, eh? [NY Times]