Kristine Lofgren

Artificial Leaf Can Make Oxygen in Space with Water and Light

by , 08/02/14

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It seems like we are constantly getting a little bit closer to being able to live in outer space, but one teeny-tiny little detail keeps holding us back: oxygen. Plants just don’t like zero gravity environments, and toting around an indefinite oxygen supply isn’t really feasible. Enter the Silk Leaf: a manmade “plant” that can actually create endless oxygen using light and water.


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Julian Melchiorri wanted to create a way to produce oxygen in space that could handle the harsh environment of interstellar travel. What he created is an artificial leaf that has the chloroplast from the plants we know and love actually suspended inside. Melchiorri used a silk fiber to suspend the chloroplast in place so that it can still act like a plant but with a sort of super-structure to make it extra durable.

Related: NASA to Launch New Ultra-Light Inflatable Habitats for the International Space Station

“I extracted chloroplasts from plant cells and placed them inside this silk protein. As an outcome I have the first photosynthetic material that is living and breathing as a leaf does, “Melchiorri told Dezeen. He also says that he wanted to build off of nature’s own system to take advantage of a proven method and the leaves won’t just be handy for exploring the far reaches of the galaxy. Back here on Earth, they can be used as biological air filters or oxygen producers.

Via Dezeen and Gizmodo

Images via Dezeen/Julian Melchiorri

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7 Comments

  1. öse October 19, 2014 at 5:50 pm

    i`ve got a tree in the garden can do the same.

  2. SimonEyes October 6, 2014 at 6:22 pm

    Don’t chloroplasts derive oxygen from CO2 not water?

    If the oxygen is from ‘splitting’ water wouldn’t there also be free hydrogen produced?

  3. Plant World News August 11, 2014 at 9:40 am

    It is a shame this has gotten so much media hype. Nowhere is it stated that this technology functions or even exists. It is a dream, a concept only. And any plant physiologist would tell you it cannot work as described. How does he plan to keep chloroplasts alive in the plastic?

  4. Bill Buchholz July 31, 2014 at 10:06 am

    Pure BS. This is a solid state physics problem. Chloroplasts have a very limited function after being removed from the cell. See Daniel Nocera, who actually may have a way of splitting water. He doesn’t call it an artificial leaf (at least not in anything I’ve seen yet)

  5. GreenPete July 31, 2014 at 12:27 am

    If it’s made with silk, its not truly “man made”

  6. vanessaramey July 30, 2014 at 10:32 pm

    This really is an ingenious solution to a serious problem. I would wonder how this would effect the growth of food and plant life in outer space. If there is such a problem growing for oxygen, then would it be possible to grow them at a rate to sustain long distance space travel?

  7. Theo Stark July 30, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    I suspect these would supplement the traditional CO2 scrubbers used in space, but what do they do with the excess carbon? As they don’t grow, ie, don’t incorporate the carbon into more ‘plant’ material, this could be a problem.

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