Material mimics plants by using sunlight for photosynthetic energy production

bionic leaf fertilizer close up
A Florida scientist has discovered a new material that could be a game changer in the world of renewable energy. The artificial material efficiently harvests sunlight and uses that light for energy generation in a carbon-neutral manner. “In theory, this should be a self-sustaining energy source,” said Jose L. Mendoza-Cortes, research lead and assistant professor of chemical engineering at Florida State University.

The material mimics plants by absorbing sunlight and using that light to convert water into hydrogen and oxygen in a process called oxidation. The hydrogen can then be used for energy generation, and the oxygen can be recirculated back into the atmosphere. No carbon dioxide is produced during the conversion, making the process environmentally friendly. This process is very similar to plant photosynthesis, which uses sunlight to convert water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and glucose which provides the plant with an abundant energy source.

Mendoza-Cortes was working with a multi-layer form of manganese oxide known as birnessite when he made his breakthrough discovery. He was looking for a material that trapped sunlight, did not rust in the presence of water and was inexpensive to manufacture. Originally, Mendoza-Cortes worked with the multi-layer form of manganese oxide, but soon he began peeling back the layers until a single layer remained. He was pleasantly surprised to discover that the single layer material trapped light at a much faster rate than the multi-layered form.

The single-layer birnessite has an advantage over current solar cells, which are stacked to form layers approximately hundreds of micrometers in thickness. “It is cheap, it is efficient and you do not need a large amount to capture enough sunlight to carry out fuel generation,” said Mendoza-Cortes when speaking about the manganese oxide material. In theory, the material could be used for household energy generation by installing birnessite panels on a roof and using the sun to turn rain water into a usable source of fuel.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Write music with your voice, make homemade cheese

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Smart Home

Is your Keurig making gross coffee? Might be time for a cleaning

No one likes a dirty, scaled, or smelly Keurig, but how are you supposed to clean them? Before you throw yours out the window, here is a quick guide on cleaning your machine out thoroughly.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix right now (March 2019)

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Wearables

You will never need to charge a smartwatch again, if new EU project succeeds

A new EU research project has launched into finding a new way of powering wearable devices, with the intention of using an energy harvesting system to ensure we never have to charge one up ever again.
Emerging Tech

It’s not time travel, but scientists can turn back clock on a quantum computer

Physicists have demonstrated that they can wind back the clock on a quantum computer a fraction of a second. Don't get too excited about the prospect of human time travel any time soon, though.
Emerging Tech

This very talented robotic leg learned to walk all by itself

Researchers at the University of Southern California have developed a robotic limb capable of walking without preprogrammed knowledge of the task. It’s an impressive feat that could help future robots navigate the world independently.
Emerging Tech

Opportunity’s final image is a haunting panorama of the Martian surface

The Opportunity mission to Mars may be no more, but the rover's legacy lives on. Now NASA has released the final image captured by Opportunity, and it's a stunning panorama of the Martian surface.
Emerging Tech

A lunar time capsule: 50-year-old moon rock samples to be opened for study

Nearly 50 years after the Apollo missions to the Moon, NASA is breaking open samples of Moon rock for the first time. Samples collected from Apollo missions 15, 16, and 17 have been preserved and never before exposed to Earth's atmosphere.
Emerging Tech

Gorgeous image of the Cosmic Bat nebula leaves us starry-eyed

The "Cosmic Bat" nebula has been captured in beautiful detail by the European Southern Observatory. Formally known as NGC 1788, the nebula is two thousand light-years away in a dark corner of the Orion constellation.
Emerging Tech

Super telescope captures supermassive black holes forming billions of years ago

The Subaru Telescope in Hawaii has captured evidence of supermassive black holes forming in the ancient universe. Astronomers discovered 83 quasars powered by supermassive black holes from billions of years ago.
Emerging Tech

Mind-bending model shows Venus isn’t our nearest neighbor — it’s Mercury

Every textbook and table on the internet agrees -- the closest planet to Earth is Venus. But a new mathematical model shows that this is wrong. In fact, the planet closest to us on average is Mercury.
Emerging Tech

Desk lamps take on a new task by converting their light to power

What if we could charge devices using light from indoor sources like desk lamps? A group of scientists working on a technology called organic photovoltaics (OPVs) aim to do just that.
Emerging Tech

Body surrogate robot helps people with motor impairments care for themselves

A team from Georgia Tech has come up with an assistant robot to help people who have severe motor impairments to perform tasks like shaving, brushing their hair, or drinking water.
Emerging Tech

New Hubble image displays dazzling Messier 28 globular cluster

Messier 28 is a group of stars in the constellation of Sagittarius, located 18,000 light-years from our planet. Thousands of stars are packed tightly together in this sparkling image.