New Solar Cell Based On Nature’s Handiwork?

Plants and trees make use of the sun’s power everyday to create energy through processes like photosynthesis. Biologists at the Washington University in St. Louis‘s Photosynthetic Antenna Research Center (PARC) are taking a cue from nature to try to replicate that in the form of a solar cell.

Tree leaves and pond scum use light energy to push electrons across a membrane,  ultimately creating sugars and other organic molecules. The researchers are studying those proteins and pigments to replicate them in the design kind of natural solar cell.

Via Blakenship/WUSTL

And it looks like they’ve succeed. One group of researchers has made a light-harvesting antenna modeled on the chlorosome found in green bacteria. Chlorosomes are giant assemblies of pigment molecules. They allow green bacteria to photosynthesize even in the dim light in ocean deeps. The research is detailed in the latest edition of  the New Journal of Chemistry.

Now, the team is working toward seeing if they can make a practical solar device from their findings. “We’re not trying to make a more efficient solar cell in the next six months,” Dewey Holten, PhD, professor of chemistry in Arts & Sciences, said in a statement. “Our goal instead is to develop fundamental understanding so that we can enable the next generation of more efficient solar powered devices.”

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