"You drop it in a glass of water and you walk outside and hold it in the sun, and you'll start to see bubbles of hydrogen and oxygen," Daniel Nocera, an MIT professor who led the team that invented the device, told The Boston Globe.
The leaf could solve a challenge facing solar power of how to store energy produced by the sun so it can be used on cloudy days, the newspaper said Thursday.
Instead of charging a battery, the energy could be stored as oxygen and hydrogen gases to be later combined in fuel cells to generate electricity, the researchers said.
The next step, Nocera said, is to scale up the technology to produce enough hydrogen and oxygen for a fuel cell to power a car or home.
He likes the invention for its simplicity, he said.
"I don't have to have anything wired up, I don't have to plug it into anything," he said. "That's what leaves do: They take sunlight and they make a wireless current -- like what is happening here."