Spinach Proteins Boost Solar Power Hopes

  • Spinach plant

Photosynthetic proteins in plants are responsible for the conversion of light into electrochemical energy, and apparently the spinach ones are one step ahead.

About 40 years ago, scientists discovered that one of the proteins involved in photosynthesis continued to work after being extracted form plants, especially from spinach.

They then found out that this protein was able to convert sunlight into electrical energy with nearly 100 percent efficiency, compared to conversion efficiencies of less than 40 percent of traditional devices.

After this substantial discovery, research groups around the world set off to study and experiment with the protein, called PS1, in a bid to create super efficient solar panels.

Now, researchers at Vanderbilt University have developed a way to combine the photosynthetic protein in spinach with silicon in a manner that produces more electrical current than previous biohybrid solar cells.

The researchers’ next step is to build a functioning silicon solar cell using this new design, with a range of mature solar conversion technologies that could be developed within the next 3 years.

The students, who won the award at the National Sustainable Design Expo in April based on a prototype solar panel they had created 2 years ago, have already developed a new design, which works even better.

Kane Jennings, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, who collaborated to the study, estimates that a two-foot panel could put out enough electricity to power a number of small electrical devices.

This comes as great news in a time when the development of efficient, green energy solutions are critical to the future of the planet.

It's great to know there are lots of students and researcher out there who are working hard to secure all alternatives are explored, with, for instance, also sound being used to enhance the energy output of solar cells.

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