"This is a proof of concept that you can have a way of harvesting solar energy and storing it in the form of a liquid fuel," said Pamela Silver, Professor of Biochemistry and Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School (HMS).

"It's not like we're trying to make some super-convoluted system. Instead, we are looking for simplicity and ease of use," Silver said.

The artificial leaf invented by the paper's senior author, Daniel Nocera, Professor of Energy at Harvard University, depends on catalysts made from materials that are inexpensive and readily accessible.

"The catalysts I made are extremely well adapted and compatible with the growth conditions you need for living organisms like a bacterium," Nocera said.

In their new system, once the artificial leaf produces oxygen and hydrogen, the hydrogen is fed to a bacterium called Ralstonia eutropha.

An enzyme takes the hydrogen back to protons and electrons, then combines them with carbon dioxide to replicate - making more cells.

The team's immediate challenge is to increase the bionic leaf's ability to translate solar energy to biomass by optimizing the catalyst and the bacteria.

Their goal is five percent efficiency, compared to nature's rate of one percent efficiency for photosynthesis to turn sunlight into biomass.

The findings are published in the journal PNAS.

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