"It is known that hydrogen generation from renewable resources will be the ultimate solution to our energy and environment problems," said Chinnakonda S Gopinath, a senior scientist at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research's National Chemical Laboratory in Pune.
CSIR is a state-funded research and development organisation.
Mr Gopinath said his team has been working for nearly a decade to split water molecules in order to generate hydrogen. "Hydrogen burning gives energy and water as a side product, underscoring its importance and relevance to the present-day world," he said, adding nothing has been done to convert hydrogen into energy although India is a country that gets plenty of sunlight.
"This line of research is very relevant to our country. India is blessed with plenty of sunlight through the year that is not exploited significantly to produce energy or hydrogen," he said.
The device consists of semiconductors stacked in a manner to simulate the natural leaf system. When light strikes the semiconductors, electrons move in one direction, producing electric current.
The current almost instantaneously splits water into hydrogen, which researchers believe is one of the cleanest forms of fuel as its main byproduct is water. At present, hydrogen is produced from fossil fuel using a process that emits a large amount of carbon dioxide -- a gas that promotes global warming.
"We have made an attempt to generate solar hydrogen. The method is simple and practicable and hence there is a very good possibility of scaling it up," senior scientist Mr Gopinath said.
The research, published in the journal Scientific Reports, says a palm-sized device can produce six litres of hydrogen fuel an hour. The scientist said more work is needed on the project.
"But in the not-so-distant future, we could expect to see a car fuelled by hydrogen generated from the artificial leaf process on board," Mr Gopinath said.
Auto makers are also trying to make cars run by hydrogen-powered fuel cells.