Chemistry for the climate

Chemists claim that by mimicking photosynthesis in the lab, they could revolutionize fuel production within five years. Katharine Sanderson reports.

Dan Nocera, a chemist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, made a bold statement at the American Chemical Society's fall meeting in Philadelphia last month. He claimed that within five years he could build a device capable of producing locally sourced hydrogen gas, which could power all the world's houses, fill people's car batteries and revolutionize energy supply in the developing world. "I guarantee, in under five years, you'll see this," he said.

Nocera's innovation, reported in July this year, is a simple catalyst that can produce oxygen from water under benign conditions1. Nocera is one of scores of chemists worldwide racing to find ways to split water into hydrogen and oxygen using cheap materials, in a process ultimately powered by sunlight2. Such a system could boost solar power's contribution to the future mix of energy technologies, as the gases are produced using light during daytime and combined using a fuel cell to produce clean energy after dark.

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