JUL 08, 2018 9:10 AM PDT

How bacteria is helping us harness solar power, even on those cloudy days

One of the principal arguments that solar energy comes up against is its obvious dependence on sunlight - and for places that don’t receive much, or consistent sun, this form of renewable energy is basically unviable. But researchers from the University of British Columbia in Canada have recently discovered a loophole that may make harnessing solar power possible even on those gray days.

"Our solution to a uniquely B.C. problem is a significant step toward making solar energy more economical," said Vikramaditya Yadav, a professor in UBC's department of chemical and biological engineering who led the project.

Using bacteria in order to convert light to energy, the research team developed a solar cell that is capable of generating a strong current even in “dim light” days, such as those experienced much of the year in British Columbia or England. And to make it better, it’s cheap.

Called “biogenic” solar cells, this living technology has the potential to become just as widely used as conventional solar panels. Because solar panels are essentially composed of solar cells, scientists in the past have tried to create similar technologies, by extracting the naturally-occurring dye that bacteria need for photosynthesis to convert light into electrical currents. But past attempts have been too complex and expensive. What the UBC team did, instead, was keep the dye in the bacteria and use a genetically engineered version of E. coli to produce a dye called lycopene that is really good at converting light into energy. “This modification yields a strain that overproduces the photoactive pigment lycopene,” write the authors. Science Daily explains the process and magnificent results:

Clouds got you down? Not anymore! Photo: Synergy Power

“The researchers then coated the bacteria with a mineral that could act as a semiconductor, and applied the mixture to a glass surface.W ith the coated glass acting as an anode at one end of their cell, they generated a current density of 0.686 milliamps per square ccentimeter-- an improvement on the 0.362 achieved by others in the field.”

Yadav was excited about the outcomes from the team’s hard work. "We recorded the highest current density for a biogenic solar cell. These hybrid materials that we are developing can be manufactured economically and sustainably, and, with sufficient optimization, could perform at comparable efficiencies as conventional solar cells," Yadav commented.

The authors have significant hope for what lays ahead in the development of this biogenic solar cell. An obvious advantage is the great reduction in costs - Yadav estimates the process cuts costs to about one-tenth of the original dye production process. But the technology also holds possibilities for biogenic materials in mining, deep-sea exploration and other low-light environments. More research will need to be conducted in order to determine the extent of biogenics .

Sources: Science Daily, Nano Micro Small

 

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
NOV 27, 2019
Drug Discovery & Development
NOV 27, 2019
New Painkiller More Effective than Opioids Discovered in Mud
Researchers have discovered a new painkiller dubbed to be as effective as opioids, only minus their disadvantages, from a 16-year old mud sample found near...
DEC 01, 2019
Earth & The Environment
DEC 01, 2019
Reducing GHG emissions of the transportation sector
The United States Environmental Protection Agency reported that the highest greenhouse gas emissions in 2017 were in the transportation sector, making up a...
DEC 10, 2019
Earth & The Environment
DEC 10, 2019
NOAA Unveils Florida Keys Reef Restoration Program
Earlier this week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced "Mission: Iconic Reefs"—a new strategy to restore a...
DEC 19, 2019
Earth & The Environment
DEC 19, 2019
Tiny Fossils Reveal California's Ocean Acidification History
A century’s worth of microscopic shells has revealed that ocean acidification is occurring in California waters at twice the rate of the global avera...
JAN 10, 2020
Earth & The Environment
JAN 10, 2020
How to measure net carbon dioxide flux
With images of the fires in Australia burning your eyes on every news site, it is not a surprise that environmental scientists are calling for an update to...
JAN 17, 2020
Earth & The Environment
JAN 17, 2020
What's the carbon footprint of your fish stick?
New research from scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz highlights the unsustainable footprint of the processed fish industry. The study, ...
Loading Comments...