Swedish researchers say they've built a molecular catalyzer that can oxidize water to oxygen very quickly - reaching speeds not far off those of natural photosynthesis.
While artificial photosynthesis has been under development for 30 years, it's the first time that such a conversion rate has been reached - about 300 turnovers per second, compared with 100 to 400 for natural photosynthesis.
"Speed has been the main problem, the bottleneck, when it comes to creating perfect artificial photosynthesis," says Licheng Sun, professor of organic chemistry at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH).
"This is clearly a world record, and a breakthrough regarding a molecular catalyzer in artificial photosynthesis."
The result, he says, could make it possible in the future to create large-scale facilities for producing hydrogen in the Sahara, or combine the technique with traditional solar cells.
The team plans to continue working to try and drive down the price of the technology.
"I'm convinced that it will be possible in ten years to produce technology based on this type of research that is sufficiently cheap to compete with carbon-based fuels," says Sun.
"This explains why Barack Obama is investing billions of dollars in this type of research."