The Bionic Leaf: Clean Energy for All

Science for the Public” Contemporary Science Issues and Innovations
August 02, 2022 Belmont Media Center, Belmont MA (zoom)

Daniel G. Nocera, Ph.D., Patterson Rockwood Professor of Energy, Dept of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Harvard University.
Nocera Lab

Dr. Nocera, famous for the invention of the first viable “artificial leaf,” explains how this innovation separates hydrogen and oxygen from H2O. via a catalytic device. There are two unique features. First, the hydrogen can be stored in fuel cells to produce electricity or mixed with carbon dioxide to make hydrocarbon fuels. Second, the process can be developed for distributed –that is, very localized– use that does not require large power facilities. The catalytic devices could be attached to private residences everywhere. Recent modifications indicate that seawater can be used instead of freshwater. Dr. Nocera describes the development of the bionic leaf and its present status.

Some background: Daniel Nocera invented the Artificial Leaf and the Bionic Leaf. The Artificial Leaf comprises Si coated with catalysts to capture the direct solar process of photosynthesis – the use of sunlight to split water to hydrogen and oxygen from neutral water, at atmospheric pressure and room temperature. The Bionic Leaf comprises a bio-engineered organism interfaced with the catalysts of the Artificial Leaf to capture the dark process of photosynthesis – the combination of carbon dioxide and hydrogen to produce biomass and liquid fuels. The integration of the light and dark processes of the Artificial Leaf and the Bionic Leaf, respectively, allowed Nocera to develop a complete artificial photosynthesis — sunlight + air + water to biomass and liquid fuels — that is ten times more efficient than natural photosynthesis. Dr. Nocera’s many awards include the United Nations Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Organization’s Science and Technology Award in 2009 for his contributions to renewable-energy development.