The search for clean sources of energy is one of the great challenges of science, which investigates them as a desperate way to prevent us from finishing off the planet we live on.
One of the most common is solar energy, based on photovoltaic cells that use the opposite charges produced by the light energy to create a electric field and, with it, generate current.
Little by little, the consumption of this source of energy has been increasing among the population, but the investigation of a way to enhance the method has not stopped for a moment. And who are the living things that are best at using sunlight to get energy? The humans? Nothing of that. We will have photovoltaic cells, but we will never dominate the matter as they do plants and some bacteria; therefore, if we cannot be better than them, we can only ask them for help.
How does a traditional photovoltaic cell work?
A solar panel is made up of a set of photovoltaic cells, who are responsible for originating the current, but how do they do it? Broadly speaking, when a fotn, coming from the sunlight, affects a material semiconductor, As the silicon, a electron, leaving a hole in the volume from which it came out. This hole is then occupied by an electron from the deeper layers of the semiconductor, resulting in a charge difference between the part with the largest number of electrons, which will have negative charge, and the one that has lost them, that will have been loaded positively.
Thus, by joining both ends with a cable, the electron flux between them, generating a electric current.
What do biological solar cells consist of?
As I was saying, the metabolic processes carried out by plants and some bacteria, known as photosynthetic green bacteria, require energy from sunlight, so they are able to capture it in a very efficient way, even in extreme environments and in low light. To do this, they contain in their cells components capable of capture the photons coming from sunlight and transmitting them to a electron transport chain to finish in ATP production, the energy compound used by living things.
So, years ago, research into the design of biological solar panels, in which the photovoltaic cell concept makes more sense than ever, due to the presence of living cells they couple their own electron transport chain with the typical semiconductors of photovoltaic cells.
Will we soon have biological solar panels?
Little by little, new research is being carried out in order to increase the efficiency of these plates, so that they can soon be transferred to the population.
One of the latest advances has been carried out in the Binghampton university, assuming a great step in the development of this type of devices. And it is that, for the first time, they have managed to connect nine biological solar cells, giving rise to a true biological solar panel capable of generating electricity with a much higher power than achieved so far, 559 microwatts.
This same research group already started to make improvements to this procedure last year, by changing the materials traditional by others that seemed to increase efficiency and, above all, by replacing the traditional method of double chamber to harbor bacteria for a better one, based on the microfluidics.
Thus; these panels, which take advantage of the photosynthesis and the cellular respirationcontinuously in cycles of 12 hours a night, they generate electricity with a performance superior to those obtained so far and, after a long process of improvement, could mean the future of the long-term electricity supply in remote places, where frequent battery replacement is not practical.
However, despite the great advances made, these scientists still have a long way to go; since, at present, a typical solar panel, composed of 60 photovoltaic cells, is capable of producing 200 watts of power, while one of the same size, based on biological solar cells, would produce 000003726 watts. Okay, that’s a little, but in science the great discoveries never go big. Time to time.
Image: Science News