Researchers from the University of British Columbia managed to find a sustainable and also low-cost way of harvesting energy by using what they call “biogenic” solar cells.
These cells were made out of bacteria and they have the ability to generate a stronger current than any previously recorded ones from similar devices.
What makes them unique is the fact that they function in the same way even in low-light conditions. This innovation would really bring about a change in areas of the world where overcast skies are more common.
“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.”
The idea of biogenic solar cells is not new but the previous attempts at obtaining the desired result have not been successful – those attempts focused on extracting the natural dye that was used by the bacteria during photosynthesis in order to harvest it. Unfortunately, that process also involved the use of toxic solvents, which caused the color to degrade.
The UBC researchers took a different approach this time and left the dye in bacteria and genetically engineered E.coli, which produces large amounts of lycopene. Lycopene is a chemical which is highly effective in harvesting light which can then be converted into energy.
The bacteria was subsequently coated with a mineral that acted like a semiconductor and the mixture was then applied to a glass surface. This bio-material was able to generate a current density of 0.686 miliamperes per square centimeter which also happens to be a record in current density for a biogenic solar cell.
At this moment, the researchers are trying to create a process that does not kill the bacteria, in order for it to produce dye continuously.
You can read more about it in the official paper available at the Wiley Online Library.