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Scientists develop new 'artificial leaf'

Xinhua | Updated: 2024-02-28 15:56


SHENYANG -- Chinese scientists, along with their international counterparts, have developed a brand-new type of "artificial leaf," a liquid metal-embraced photoactive film. It harnesses solar energy to produce hydrogen through direct water splitting, paving the way for scalable production.

The research team led by Prof. Liu Gang from the Institute of Metal Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, recently published their research in Nature Communications, an international academic journal.

The film, similar to a natural leaf, converts solar energy directly into a chemical fuel, holding great promise in direct solar-to-hydrogen energy conversion. This development is particularly promising under the context of the carbon-neutral initiative, according to the research team.

To fabricate these robust photoactive films, scientists developed a new particle-implanting technique that embeds semiconductor photo-absorbers in the liquid metal. This method draws inspiration from the fact that photosystems II and I, which drive photosynthesis in leaves and are embedded within the thylakoid membranes of chloroplasts.

Under visible light irradiation, its photocatalytic activity for water splitting to produce hydrogen is 2.9 times that of traditional films. Furthermore, it can work continuously for over a hundred hours without attenuation.

"An added benefit of such films is that a wide range of low-melting-point metals and semiconductors can be used, and all materials used can be easily recycled via ultra-sonication in hot water," said Liu. "All in all, this new technique promises a low-cost scalable processing route for solar energy conversion devices and applications."

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