Researches at Monash University, led by Professor Doug MacFarlane, have announced they have succeeded in extracting hydrogen and oxygen from water and sunlight at record efficiency in a process which mimics photosynthesis.

Such “artificial leaf” technology is considered to be practically efficient if 10% of the solar energy used is captured and used to produce hydrogen, but the researchers have gone well beyond that, achieving 22.4%

The scientists say that their process could become commercially viable within a few years because they have managed to produce the record high level of hydrogen using nickel as a catalyst, rather than more expensive precious metals. They believe that the technology could be ready to use in homes within a few years and shortly after that in fuel stations.

Professor MacFarlane said that “We have to learn as much as we can from photosynthesis, which is what goes on in leafy plants, because that’s where most of our energy comes from in terms of fossil fuels or current kinds of carbon materials that we use either as food or fuel. If we can learn what plants do with sunlight and use it to make carbon compounds, then we can potentially make artificially produced fuels for all of the reasons we need fuels currently.”