The term â€œBiosolarâ€ doesnâ€™t mean a whole lot to the average person right now. But according to Professor Barry Bruce from the University of Tennessee, it could become the next generation of solar power, drastically reducing solar costs and giving whole new meaning to the word â€œgreen energyâ€.
Bruce is working on the new biosolar energy technology with Andreas Mershin from MIT and Mohammad Khaja Nazeeruddin from theÂ Ecole Polytechnique Federale in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Basically, biosolar energy uses green plant material to harness solar power through photosynthesis. Usually plants use photosynthesis to produce food. However, the new biosolar technology converts energy derived from photosynthetic into a useable form of electricity.
A key element of photosynthesis is as photosystem-I (PSI) from blue-green algae. The researchers have bioengineered this complex to interact with an array of semi-conductors, which are able to harvest the electricity generated.
As Andreas Mershin explains: â€œ”Leaves and plants are nature’s solar panels. The first step in photosynthesis is to change sunlight into a little bit of electricity that then gets converted into the processes of life. If we manage to somehow hijack the molecules that are responsible for photosynthesis in plants and other photosynthetic organisms, and use them to generate electricity for our own needs, this would represent a fantastic and disruptive new step in the way that we generate solar power or electricity in general.”
Although the efficiency of these new cells is quite low (around 0.1%), continued research into biophotovoltaics could push these efficiency number up to a commercially viable 1 â€“ 2 %.
Unlike traditional photovoltaic solar energy which generates electricity from toxic materials, biosolar energy uses plant material to harness photosynthetic processes. Therefore, the primary materials are biological, and therefore pose little risk to the environment.
The materials needed to generate biophotovoltaic panels are cheaper and mostly renewable. Also, biosolar energy would require less time, water, land, and fossil fuel usage than biofuels.
What are your thoughts on biosolar energy? Do you think the technology looks promising as a form of renewable energy?