In March 2018, researchers from the University of British Columbia found a way for solar panels to absorb solar energy. They used biogenic solar cells (bacteria powered) to convert light into energy. The term E. Coli is enough to make anyone cringe, although, it turns out that this type of bacteria does have some helpful benefits. They work similarly to silicon solar cells, the material that makes up most solar panels. They can also be useful in areas with little sunshine. In the future, bacteria powered solar panels can be more cost-efficient. In addition, they can prove sustainable in sunshine depraved areas.
Biogenic solar cells convert energy in a process that is similar to plant photosynthesis. This is where plants turn light into energy, naturally. A previous attempt to harness this process used a method that removed the natural dye that was used for photosynthesis from bacteria. However, the removal of the natural dye became a costly and tedious process.
The researchers re-thought the conversion process of biogenic solar cells. In fact, they reverse-engineered the bacteria E.coli to synthesize a dye called lycopene. The dye converts light into energy. A semiconductor mineral was used to coat bacteria. Then, they applied it to a glass surface. The result? The bacteria converted energy at a density of 0.686 milliamps per square centimeter. That amount is nearly double the previous 0.362 attempted by other biogenic cell efforts.
Researchers found that the new process utilizing E. Coli saved money. Subsequently, producing lycopene cost them 10% less than in previous methods. They believed that these cells could be used in regions with overcast weather or in dimly lit areas.
While they are not as efficient as silicon solar energy cells, biogenic cells do well in cloudy areas. They could benefit specific regions of the world such as northern Europe and British Columbia. The skies are often overcast in these areas. Researchers hope that the new cells can work in dimly lit environments. For example, these bacteria powered solar panels may have application in deep-sea exploration and mining.
Bacteria powered solar panels have a long way to go. For now, researchers are looking for ways to prolong bacterial life.
This new development is a part of a future with more solar energy access. Other advancements include human-produced crystals converting light into energy. As these develop, take the first step towards solar energy with the team at Phoenix Clean Energy. We will work with you on designing and installing solar panels for your home.