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Bacteria-powered solar cell works under dark skies

Scientists based at the University of British Columbia have come up with a low-cost and sustainable means to develop a solar cell using bacteria. The types of bacteria are adept at converting light to energy. In tests the solar cell generated a current far stronger than any levels previously measured from such a bio-device. The Canadian scientists succeeded in generating a current density of 0.686 milliamps per square centimeter, compared to 0.362 per square centimeter, which is the maximum amount achieved by others working in this field.

More importantly, the biological-based solar cell worked equally as efficiently under dim light as it did under bright light. This experiment could aid the bigger adoption of solar power in regions of the world where overcast skies are far more common. At present, solar cell adoption has been limited to sunnier areas.

The “biogenic” thus have the potential to become as equally efficient as the common types of synthetic cells used in conventional solar panels. Previous attempts to create solar cells using bacteria have centered on extracting the dye that come bacteria can use for photosynthesis. This is an expensive process and can generate toxic chemicals.

With the new development, the scientists took a different track. Here the researchers left the dye in genetically modified Escherichia coli bacteria and coated the bacteria with a mineral which functions as a semiconductor. The bio-mixture was then applied to a glass surface. They bacteria generated considerable quantities of the substance lycopene, which is a dye effective at harvesting light for energy conversion. Lycopene is a bright red carotene and carotenoid pigment found in red carrots, watermelons, gac, and papayas.

According to lead researcher Professor Vikramaditya 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.”

The peer-reviewed research has been published in the aptly named journal Small, with the research paper headed “A Biogenic Photovoltaic Material.”

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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