A young graduate of the Royal College of Art, Julian Melchiorri, has designed and produced the first synthetic biological leaf capable of producing oxygen from water and carbon dioxide (CO2).
The process is enabled by extracting a unique material from silk. The fibers stabilize plant organelles. Melchiorri extracts chloroplasts from living plant cells and places them inside the silk material. The end result is a synthetic material that operates and breathes like a normal leaf.
Melchiorri is just beginning to imagine the applications his invention might deliver, including house lamps that breathe, facades on buildings (see image above) or possibly inside building ventilation systems where air would be piped in, oxygenated, and distributed throughout a building. Observers note that oxygen is essential for life and that using the invention to extract carbon dioxide from the air may help lower CO2 in the atmosphere.
Finally, talk has begun about the use of Melchiorri’s invention for space travel in which oxygen can be produced naturally to supply astronauts. Space architecture is another application; Melchiorri notes that plants do not grow in zero gravity and so his invention could pave the way to pumping lunar or Mars habitats with life-giving oxygen.
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