Researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) have come up with groundbreaking research, which involves the building of solar cells using bacteria (called biogenic) that could convert light to energy. The research would reportedly be the answer to the generation of solar energy in places like British Columbia (BC) and parts of northern Europe where the skies are commonly overcast.
The bacteria-powered solar cell is projected to be economical, being efficient as the synthetic cells used in conventional solar panels, and generating a current that was found stronger than any previously recorded from a similar device.
Vikramaditya Yadav, a professor at the UBC department of chemical and biological engineering, and lead researcher of the project said that their solution to a uniquely B.C. problem was a significant step toward making solar energy more economical.
The building blocks of solar panels are solar cells, as they do the work of converting light into electrical current. The efforts placed previously toward building biogenic solar cells were centred around extracting the natural dye that bacteria used for photosynthesis. The process which was complex involved toxic solvents causing the dye to degrade and was also found to be expensive.
Meanwhile, the UBC researchers’ solution involved leaving the dye in the bacteria. The researchers first genetically engineered E. coli to produce the large amounts of photoactive pigment lycopene (which gives tomatoes their red-orange colour) and were effective at harvesting light for conversion to energy. Next, the researchers’ coated the bacteria with TiO2 nanoparticles that could act as a semiconductor, and this mixture was applied to a glass surface. The coated glass of their cell operated as an anode at one end, which generated a current density of 0.686 milliamps per square centimetre, which was seen as an improvement on the 0.362 that was achieved by others in the field.
Yadav anticipates the reduction of the cost of dye production and foresees many potential applications for the biogenic minerals including deep-sea exploration, mining, and other low-light environments.