Engineer Julian Melchiorri has designed an artificial biological leaf that can produce oxygen through chlorophyll photosynthesis.
The leaves of trees are one of the main sources of oxygen on our planet. Through chlorophyll photosynthesis, in fact, leaves absorb carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere from the sun and release oxygen. This process has been widely studied and understood by scientists. However, no one has ever been able to reproduce it artificially. At least until now. The engineer of Italian origin Julian Melchiorri has in fact designed an artificial biological leaf capable of producing oxygen like its natural “cousins”. The project is called Silk Leaf. The artificial leaves are composed mainly of silk proteins and chloroplasts (a type of organelle present in plant cells and eukaryotic algae). Due to the photosynthetic capabilities of chloroplasts, Silk Leaf absorbs CO2 and produces oxygen, chemicals and sugars that can be used as an energy source. For its operation, the artificial leaf needs only sunlight and water.
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Silk Leaf: the first artificial leaf that produces oxygen
Melchiorri’s idea is to use artificial leaves to produce oxygen in space. In the absence of gravity, in fact, it is not possible to grow plants and this leads to major problems for the supply of oxygen. Instead of cylinders and tanks full of 02, space stations could be “filled” with artificial leaves capable of autonomously producing the oxygen that astronauts need to breathe and survive. Obviously, Melchiorri’s is only an idea that will need many tests and experiments before being implemented. The first data, however, are encouraging: some experiments conducted by the engineer have shown that a single artificial Silk Leaf can produce fair amounts of oxygen. The level of production could also be optimized thanks to nano-bionic interventions on chloroplasts present in the artificial leaves. Melchiorri is working on this aspect: the goal is to bring green oxygen generators into space as soon as possible.
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