Artificial Photosynthesis: A New Energy Source?

Daniel Nocera ponders the artificial leaf: "Nocera’s leaf is simply a silicon wafer coated with catalysts that use sunlight to split water to into hydrogen and oxygen components." Image Source: PF Pictures via ABC News.

BBC reports on how a Harvard / former MIT chemist has created an artificial leaf which uses solar power to create hydrogen fuel to generate electricity:
Imagine if you could draw energy from almost unlimited sources found in nature – water and light. That’s one possibility if Harvard professor Daniel Nocera’s idea for a device that can harness and store energy from the Sun comes to fruition.
Adam Shaw travels to Boston to meet Nocera who has developed an artificial leaf that replicates photosynthesis. Silicon wafers are coated on each side with a different catalyst – one side produces hydrogen, the other produces oxygen. A barrier between them allows the gases to be collected separately, and stored in a fuel cell that generates electricity.
The catalysts are cheap, earth-abundant materials and form by self-assembly, which should make manufacture cheaper. The challenge is overcoming the high engineering costs needed for the light-harvesting infrastructure to make it commercially scalable. If this can be overcome, this small piece of technology could have enormous potential.
Professor Nocera's invention dates from 2011 and will soon be ready for the market.

Nocera asks Harvard students to start a "new epoch of humankind," which he calls the Sustainocene. He tells them that the world is out of balance: "You can't ... have environmental integrity or ecological sustainability if you have a big divide between the poor, the have nots, and the rich, the haves." He claims our culture - due to the energy crisis - is exhibiting
"gross societal imbalances and poverty, that's also a world out of balance, the haves and the have nots. And I'm here to tell you tonight, the haves - I don't care about anymore ... because you guys aren't going to make a difference. It's all these silent voices that we don't hear anymore. And you're going to have to get them in balance with us. And that's what the Sustainocene seeks to do. And it's to do that by looking at the energy, food and water problem."
Nocera insists that if the energy problem can be solved first, then water and food concerns can also be solved; moreover, allowing individuals to take control of their own energy sources offers a revolutionary political potential for how human affairs can be organized.

See Nocera explaining his new energy system below the jump.
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