Researchers from the University of British Columbia have discovered a new technique to make solar cells much more efficient. The research team has found a new cheaper way to create a solar cell that will work with bacteria that can convert light into energy. The solar cell developed by the scientists is groundbreaking- with the current generated by it being the strongest as of yet and it also works seamlessly in the dim light as it would in bright light.
British Columbia and a lot of places in Europe can employ these solar cells to generate efficient solar energy because these places are popular for their overcast skies. Researchers are hopeful that with some additional help these “biogenic” solar cells would prove to be as efficient as the synthetic cells are used in conventional solar panels. Vikramaditya Yadav, a professor at the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering said, “Our solution to a uniquely B.C. problem is a significant step toward making solar energy more economical.”
Solar panels cannot function without solar cells. Solar cells are the superheroes of solar panels- they convert light energy into electrical energy. Researches in the past chose to focus on creating such biogenic solar cells that used natural dye that bacteria use for the process of photosynthesis. Extracting the dye in itself is an extremely complex process which cannot be completed without some toxic solvents but those usually lead top degradation of the dye and on top of that, it also requires quite a lot of money.
The research team decided to let the dye be left in the bacteria instead. The bacteria E. coli was genetically engineered by scientists so that it could produce lycopene in large amounts. Lycopene is the dye that gives tomatoes their color and is very active in producing energy from light. Scientists decided to coat the bacteria with a specific mineral that had the potential to function as a semiconductor and then they proceeded to apply the mixture to a glass surface. The coated glass served the purpose of an anode and the current density was recorded to be 0.686 milliamps per square centimeter- much better than the 0.362 achieved through past experiments.
“We recorded the highest current density for a biogenic solar cell,” said Yadav. “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.” He also suggests that although the cost savings cannot be accurately estimated but the process helps reduce the cost of dye production drastically. He hopes that the team will be able to develop a process that won’t kill the bacteria so that the dye can be produced indefinitely. These bacteria-powered solar cells can be used in various fields such as mining, deep sea- exploration and other areas where low light can be an issue.