Yep you read correctly, spinach is no longer just for Popeye. Researches have discovered that solar cells can benefit from this leafy green vegetable that traditionally is being used to grow cartoon muscle.
It`s been four decades since researchers isolated a protein found in spinach called Photosystem 1 (PS1). It was found to absorb almost all sunlight it is exposed to – close to 100% – or about four to five times more than what a typical solar panel on today`s market is capable of.
Unfortunately, spinach does not generate any electricity in sunlight. Instead, it uses the sun`s energy for photosynthesis.
However, this is not the first time that scientists have mimicked natural evolution to improve technology. Thinking that we might one day be able to apply this protein in future solar cells to improve efficiency rates is really not that crazy.
A small research team at Vanderbilt University has now brought this concept a giant step closer to reality. They found that by doping silicon with a positive charge, they could successfully apply PS1 to a conventional solar cell. This “biohybrid” solar cell produces 1 milliamp of current per square centimeter at 0.3 volts, which is almost three times better than any biohybrid cell to this date.
“This combination produces current levels almost 1,000 times higher than we were able to achieve by depositing the protein on various types of metals. It also produces a modest increase in voltage,” explains Davide Cliffel, associate professor of chemistry and part of the research team.
“If we can continue on our current trajectory of increasing voltage and current levels, we could reach the range of mature solar conversion technologies in three years.” stated Kane Jennings, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at VU.
Vanderbilt University is currently looking into to patenting their process.
Guest Post by Mathias Aarre Maehlum.
Mathias is doing a Masters in Energy and Environmental Engineering. In his spare time he writes about solar power and other sources of renewable energy at his blog Energy Informative