Plants have derived their energy from the sun for millions of years, so it’s about time we tap into the expertise of these vegetative powerhouses. According to a report released Friday, scientists are now exploring “artificial leaves” as an alternative to solar panels.
The leaf-like devices mimic photosynthesis—the process by which plants use sunlight to produce energy. They are comprised of a water-based gel (synthetic chlorophyll) that contains carbon-coated electrodes and light-sensitive molecules. Sunlight stimulates the molecules within the “leaves” to produce electricity, says Dr. Orlin Velev, the study’s lead researcher and a Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at North Carolina State University.
Scientists hope the bendable solar cells will someday provide a less expensive and more environmentally friendly alternative to the solid, silicon-based panels currently dominating the market. Veley envisions sheets of the bendable cells on the roofs of houses, but says such technology is not yet available.
The artificial leaves are still impractical, but initial findings are promising. Veley’s research team hopes to improve upon the cells’ efficiency and regeneration capabilities. And perhaps someday the solar cells that power our houses will be as efficient as the houseplants we put in our windowsills.