Biomimetic file 115: synthetic leaf that produces oxygen

Synthetic leaf that produces oxygen

“A graduate of the Royal College of Art, claims to have developed a silk leaf that could create oxygen for space travel as well as make the air nicer here on Earth. The leaf was developed in conjunction with a silk lab from Tufts University. The leaf is created from a matrix of protein extracted from silk and chloroplasts, the organelle that allows plants and algae to perform photosynthesis. When provided with light and water, the synthetic leaf allegedly acts just like a real leaf and produces oxygen.”


photo credit: Julian Melchiorri


Photosynthesis is one of the most fundamental processes on Earth and yet we are still far from being able to replicate its efficiency.

When it comes to producing energy from the sun, the natural process is by far more efficient then even our best attempts at solar photovoltaic cells to date. Solar cells of the future should perhaps focus more on replicating the action of chloroplasts (the driving mechanism behind the photosynthetic process) within plant cells. The closer we get to replicate this process the more efficient our synthetic cells will be. Because plants have evolved over millions of years through which the photosynthesis process has been optimized, it should therefore be the central point of inspiration for engineering.

Oxygen is vital to most life forms (some deep sea life actually rely of sulphur chemistry rather than sunlight). Processes that could produce oxygen without significant input of energy could have multiple applications. The idea that this process can be synthetized using artificial components is promising.

Forests around the world in addition to hosting an incredible array of life forms also play a critical role as an oxygen source for the world. As these forests continue to disappear we may well soon require to replace the oxygen producing action with artificial means to avoid a slow but steady decline of global atmospheric oxygen.

More information:

What is Biomimetics: the field of gaining inspiration from nature first to solve some of our most difficult challenges. Instead of coming up with our own solutions to a problematic, the odds are that species on the planet already offer an ultimate solution. This simple fact is also another strong case to preserve species at all cost as the intellectual heritage contained within or through the study of species is both irreplaceable and invaluable…

Sylvain Richer de Forges


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