January 6, 2016

Leaf-mimicking device harnesses light to purify water

Contaminated water can be cleaned up to varying levels of purity
with a new artificial leaf. Credit: American Chemical Society

(January 6, 2015)  For years, scientists have been pursuing ways to imitate a leaf’s photosynthetic power to make hydrogen fuel from water and sunlight. In a new twist, a team has come up with another kind of device that mimics two of a leaf’s processes — photosynthesis and transpiration — to harness solar energy to purify water. Their development, reported in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, could help address issues of water scarcity.

More than 1 billion people around the world live in areas where clean water is hard to come by, and that number will likely rise as the population grows. One possible solution to the shortage is to clean up wastewater or other water sources that would otherwise not be drinkable or usable for agriculture. But methods to scrub contaminants from water mostly rely on conventional energy sources. To address the water problem without adding to the dependence on fossil fuels, Peng Tao, Wen Shang and colleagues developed a way to purify water by copying the way green leaves work.

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