In what might prove to be a breakthrough in the development of sustainable energy, scientists at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society have announced the invention of the first practical artificial leaf.

The device, however, bears no resemblance to Mother Nature's version but is described as an advanced solar cell the size of a poker card that can effectively mimic the photosynthetic process that green leaves use to convert sunlight and water into energy. It is made of silicon, electronics and catalysts fashioned from inexpensive materials such as nickel, cobalt etc. that that are capable of efficiently splitting water into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen, under simple conditions.

The gases are then sent to a fuel cell, which in turn could produce a wireless current of electricity.

According to a release from the Society, the device is about 10 times more efficient at carrying out photosynthesis than a natural leaf.

While this is not the first time that scientists have created an artificial leaf - the first being developed more than a decade ago by John Turner of the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado - the earlier version proved to be impractical for use, being made of rare, expensive metals and highly unstable. The newer device effectively overcomes these problems.

In what is perhaps most significant, Daniel Nocera from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who led the research, says that the new invention could be great as an inexpensive source of electricity for homes of the poor in developing countries. Placed in a single gallon of water in bright sunlight, the device could produce enough electricity to supply a house in a developing country with electricity for a day.

Our goal is to make each home its own power station, Nocera said, One can envision villages in India and Africa not long from now purchasing an affordable basic power system based on this technology.