Scientists at Vanderbilt University have combined spinach’s photosynthetic protein, which converts light into electrochemical energy, with silicon in a new “biohybrid” solar cell.
“This combination produces current levels almost 1,000 times higher than we were able to achieve by depositing the protein on various types of metals. It also produces a modest increase in voltage,” says David Cliffel, associate professor of chemistry at Vanderbilt University, who collaborated on the project with Kane Jennings, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. “If we can continue on our current trajectory of increasing voltage and current levels, we could reach the range of mature solar conversion technologies in three years.”
Plants like spinach, used in this biohybrid design – are much cheaper than the materials used in many microelectronic devices.
Ever since researchers discovered that a photosynthesis protein (PS1) continues to function outside the plant, teams have been working to improve the biohybrid cells. “Nature knows how to do this extremely well. In evergreen trees, for example, PS1 lasts for years,” says chemist David Cliffel. “We just have to figure out how to do it ourselves.”
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Image Credit: Amrutur Anilkumar/Vanderbilt