The research and developments being made in the field of solar energy must be some of the most exciting being carried out anywhere on (or off) the planet. The efficiency of solar cells is at the moment quite low, but research being carried out all over the world is looking to improve it. Solar cells can already reduce your energy bill substantially, as well as making you money with the government’s feed-in tariff initiative, but as efficiency increases there will be even more savings to be made.
There is amazing research being done in nanotechnology, as well as plans to grow crystals in space to improve the efficiency of solar cells. And now a way has been developed to use living cells to create solar energy. This was touched on in the previous post, in which we reported on research being carried out to produce solar cells with an indefinite life span. This is to be done by mimicking the behaviour of plants to eliminate solar damage. The Sun is the ultimate source of all energy in the solar system, but as we know from having to put sun block on if we are going to be out in the sun for too long, it can also be damaging. Plants do not have the capability to protect themselves and cannot avoid such damage, but they are able to constantly repair themselves by coming apart and reforming at the molecular level. With the use of nanotechnology, this is now possible with man-made devices as well.
This requires the use of special proteins, and this is another innovation being taken up by the solar energy research community. Instead of using silicon to convert solar energy into electrical energy, proteins from algae and jellyfish are now being used instead. Green fluorescent protein (GFP) extracted from the jellyfish or algae, when exposed to UV light, absorb the photons and emits oxygen, protons and electrons. The algae would use these in order to turn carbon dioxide into natural compounds, but researchers can use it for another application. Namely, since electricity is made up of flowing electrons, the electrons that the algae produces, when placed on a chip, create electricity.
This is still at the early stages of development, and efficiency is currently still quite low, but should prove to be a far cheaper and better way of creating solar energy. It has even been suggested that these “algae cells” could generate electricity at sea, creating a vast amount of energy.
The use of organic material combined with nanotechnology is really the cutting edge of science at the moment, and with on-going research attempting to increase the efficiency of solar cells, there could be even more exciting developments just around the corner. When they will become commercially viable is another matter of course, so we the solar cells we have at the moment will have to do for now, and they do a good job. And he more popular solar cells become, the more incentive there will be to do more research in order to make them even better.