While humanity has been struggling to capture the energy of the Sun, Nature has perfected its own method of doing so within every plant. For that reason, researchers have been trying to mimic plants for our solar power designs, and in some cases this includes replicating the purpose of photosynthesis; creating a fuel that can be stored. Now researchers at MIT have developed a detailed roadmap of the challenges to make an artificial leaf, which will hopefully lead to better forms of the technology in the future.
Instead of producing a more complicated carbohydrate, the artificial leafs being considered would separate the hydrogen and oxygen atoms in water, for storage and transport to whatever device can utilize the gases. The current designs are a combination of a solar panel and catalysts to help split the water, but are not very efficient. To help increase efficiencies, the researchers created the roadmap which identifies every imaginable challenge an artificial leaf may present, and does so in such a way that specific components of the device could be tested and optimized separately. That means one would not need to completely build a leaf to know if a new catalyst would be effective.
For an artificial leaf to be useful, it will have to be at least 10% efficient, which is more than double what MIT has previous created. The next step in the roadmap's research is to create a more efficient leaf though, so perhaps that minimum will be met.