One of the main challenges of humanis the lack of oxygen. Here on Earth, trees and other plants take in our carbon dioxide and changing it back to clean, sweet oxygen. But what if we could take those biological oxygen factories into space with us without the need for sun, soil, or water?
Thanks to Royal College of Art graduate Julian Melchiorri‘s creation, the Silk Leaf, we could soon do just that. The Silk Leaf is capable of absorbing water and carbon dioxide to produce oxygen, just the way a real plant does; becoming the world’s first man-made synthetic leaf.
“It’s very light, low energy-consuming,” explains Julian. “It’s completely biological. And my idea was to use the efficiency of nature in a man-made environment. I created some lighting out of this material, using it to illuminate the house; but at the same time to create oxygen for us.”
The Silk Leaf project was developed as part of the RCA’s Innovation Design Engineering course, in collaboration with Tufts University silk lab. It’s made from a matrix of protein extracted from silk and chloroplasts; the organelle that allows plants and algae to perform photosynthesis.
“This material has an amazing property of stabilizing (the chloroplast) organelles. As an outcome I have the first photosynthetic material that is living and breathing as a leaf does.”
To understand the importance of this invention, first understand just how important plants are for life on Earth. As the only organisms capable of converting sunlight into food, plants produce all sustenance on Earth. This process also produces the oxygen that we breath, and scrubs the air of pollutants, helping to regulate the planet’s climate.
In addition to meeting the breathing demands of space travellers, the material could be used on the exteriors of buildings and inside ventilation systems to generate fresh oxygen.
The Silk Leaf