An "artificial leaf" made by Daniel Nocera and his team, using a silicon solar cell with novel catalyst materials bonded to its two sides, is shown in a container of water with light (simulating sunlight) shining on it. The light generates a flow of electricity that causes the water molecules, with the help of the catalysts, to split into oxygen and hydrogen, which bubble up from the two surfaces.
With the current cold spell and the welcome resignation of our UK Energy and Climate Change Minister, it may be worth revisiting a development announced by MIT back in September.
As we all know, the problem with both wind power and solar is energy storage. This MIT development is in one sense, merely another step on a scientific search that has been going on for a long time - mimicking the way plants are able to break down water into oxygen and hydrogen through photosynthesis. The attraction of course lies in the fact that the energy generated may be stored until required in these two reactive gases.
There is probably still a long way to go, but for me, this is the kind of sustainable energy technology we should be researching rather than rushing into current solar and wind technologies that don't work.
I like to see this kind of research make progress, but somehow I'd be mildly surprised if it had been done in the UK. These days I tend to expect UK research to be far more politically correct. I suppose that also means more exaggerated and misleading, which is surely a little sad.
Read more about this work at http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2011/artificial-leaf-0930.html