The Silk Leaf: man-made material converts light and water into oxygen
Tom Spendlove posted on August 29, 2014 |

Julian Melchiorri wanted a material that could be built by humans in a factory but could demonstrate the properties of natural materials. His long term goal was space exploration and finding a substance that would allow colonists to exist in a completely new environment.

His solution is the Silk Leaf, developed with the Royal College of Art and the silk lab at Tufts University. The base of the material is taken from silk protein, and chloroplasts are taken from plant cells and inserted into the silk.

Melchiorri says that his material is photosynthetic, will leave and breathe like a leaf, and will might allow NASA researchers to produce oxygen for long distance space journeys. The silk leaf requires light and a small amount of water to create oxygen, like the leaves of a plant.

Other possible uses for the silk leaf might be to cover the outside of a home and create oxygen for the interior, or act as part of a ventilation system of an office building. If these oxygen creators can exist anywhere that green plants cannot then a whole world of possibilities opens up.

This video is part of MINI Frontiers, a collaboration between Dezeen and MINI showcasing the ways that design and technology are coming together. The sponsorship and advertising are kept to a minimum.

I would like to see more details of the synthetic leaf. The chief questions are how long it would take to degrade, how large scale production could happen to supply an entire space exploration base, and the amount of oxygen produced per lumen of light.

This isn't the first time has reported on the concept of a synthetic leaf, or even the first time I've written about artificial leaves. Using sunlight and water to create oxygen might not be on the list of alternative energy sources but it definitely deserves a spot in the conversation.

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