Asia’s First Artificial Leaf Lab Opens

Asia’s First Artificial Leaf Lab Opens

Many great ideas and scientific discoveries are inspired by nature and the world around us.  For years, it has been known that plants have been harnessing the sun’s rays and converting them into energy. This process is known as photosynthesis, which many of us remember from biology back in high school. What happens in photosynthesis is the plant takes in sunlight, and uses it to remove hydrogen energy from water, which helps to keep the plant alive.

Asia’s first has been opened by scientists at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), and it is hoped that more research can be done into this area. The head of NTU is President Designate Professor Bertil Andersson, whose research into ‘artificial leaf’ technology has been called ‘pioneering’. It is hoped that his research and forward thinking can be continued on in the new research centre.

Currently, the expense of the materials used in artificial photosynthesis are expense, with platinum being on metal that is used in this process. While this isn’t cost effective for many companies or businesses, research is going to be undertaken at NTU to find cheaper alternatives to do the same job. Materials that will be looked into include some rusted metals and titanium dioxide, to see if it is possible to use them to gather solar energy to be able to extract hydrogen from water.  The natural leaf has a chemical called chlorophyll, which has protein molecules that it is hard to use with various metals, and is unstable.

The current materials used in this technology are unable to do achieve much, only gathering the smallest amounts of hydrogen from rather large and expensive equipment. Essentially, the technology at present is just not commercially viable. Researching into this will helped to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

The challenge put forward to them, is to hopefully develop and design cheaper solar panels, and make this technology more cost efficient. Using around a dozen researchers and scientists from NTU, including Michael Gratzal, Dr Heinz Frei and Dr John Turner, it is planned for a prototype to be released in three to five years.

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