The May 14th innovators issue of The New Yorker has a long piece on MIT’s Prof. Daniel Nocera and the promise and limitations of his “artifical leaf.” The story, like most of theirs, is long and sits behind the pay wall.
From the abstract:
The process that Nocera calls “artificial photosynthesis” could be described more precisely as solar-powered electrolysis of water: using energy from the sun to electrochemically split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Nocera isn’t the only scientist working on artificial photosynthesis. …Writer visits Nocera’s lab at M.I.T. Discusses the challenges of adapting the artificial leaf for household use. Since the early eighties, Nocera has focussed on providing energy for the world’s poorest people. “If there’s one thing that’s unique to the technology development I’ve done, it’s been doing science with the super-poor in mind.” His emphasis is largely humanitarian; it also arises from his belief, as a scientist, that the only way to meet the world’s projected energy needs without causing intolerable environmental harm will be to work, in effect, from the bottom up—an approach that’s very different from the ones that dominate energy research.
A few things to note that may send you to the library or the newstand to read the story.
— The assertion that following the Grateful Dead encourages innovation.
— The assertion that Nocera hypes his claims and reporters and the MIT press office amplify the hype.
A Nocera lecture:
A sampling of stories from the news office.
2008: ‘Major discovery’ from MIT primed to unleash solar revolution; Scientists mimic essence of plants’ energy storage system.
2010: New water-splitting catalyst found: Research by MIT’s Dan Nocera expands the list of potential electrode materials that could be used to store energy.
Sept. 2011: ‘Artificial leaf’ makes fuel from sunlight: Solar cell bonded to recently developed catalyst can harness the sun, splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen
June 2011: ‘Artificial leaf’ moves closer to reality: MIT researchers develop a device that combines a solar cell with a catalyst to split water molecules and generate energy.