Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Engineer pursues biological solar power


A Binghamton University engineering researcher designed a biological solar cell that’s a million times more effective than current technology. Preliminary data on Seokheun “Sean” Choi’s next advancement is a thousand times better than that. His cell also works in the dark, and is self-sustaining.

The new designs don’t make biological solar cells practical, yet. But they do take them out of the realm of “absurd” and place them squarely in the realm of “someday soon.”

Here’s the challenge:

Current photovoltaic cells generate watts of energy per square centimeter. A solar chip about the size of your fingernail can power a simple handheld calculator. Existing biological cells — which use photosynthesis to generate electricity — produce picowatts per square centimeter — a trillionth of a watt. To power that same calculator, the cells would stretch 20 meters wide and from Binghamton to Ireland. Absurd.

Choi’s first biological solar cell produces a million times more energy, microwatts per square centimeter, so the calculator could operate with a solar panel that fits on a trailer home roof — just 20 meters by 5 meters. His findings were recently published in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s journal Lab on a Chip.

And Choi’s latest experiment churns out milliwatts per square centimeter — reducing the calculator’s solar panel to a backpack-sized 8 inches by 20.

That brings it into the range of practical application, says Hongseok “Moses” Noh, an engineer and professor at Drexel University who specializes in lab-on-a-chip technology and applications. “Milliwatt power should be sufficient to meet those eneeds,” Noh says. “But the device, so far, is too big for hand-held systems, honestly.”

If Choi can reduce the cell to a tenth of its size while maintaining milliwatt power density, it would be enough to power hand-held blood analysis devices or air-testing machines. “This is one of very few miniaturized bio-solar products,” Noh says, and it’s worth following Choi’s progress.

What makes Choi’s approach different? Existing biological solar cells use a thin strip of gold or indium tin oxide as an anode between the bacteria and an air cathode. Not very efficient, and the bacteria eventually die because they lack air.

Choi uses a carbon anode immersed in the bacteria-laden fluid — a pretty peridot green in a lab flask. More efficient, and because the solution has access to air, it’s self-sustaining. It also uses the plant’s natural respiration to draw energy from the sugars in the cells to keep power up even if light is low.

Choi, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, says he doesn’t understand why one form of cyanobacteria works better than another, or why a mixture of cyanobacteria and heterotrophic bacteria work even better than a single variety. His last biology class was in high school.

“I have no idea about microbiology; I just bought the bacteria and followed the instructions to culture it,” he says. But millions of bacteria species abound, and he plans to experiment to find the most productive combination.

Or, he suggests, he might work with bioengineers to develop a bacteria with its photosynthetic engine on the cell’s surface instead of deep in its heart. That would be another order of magnitude more productive because less energy would be wasted just going from the heart of the cell to its exterior. He has received seed funding from Binghamton’s Transdisciplinary Area of Excellence in smart energy to continue this work.

Choi says he’s confident he’ll eventually reach watt-level energy density, comparable to photovoltaic cells. “I can get that,” he says. “We have room for improvement.”

Todd R. McAdam | Binghamton University - discovere-e
Further information:

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht New method increases energy density in lithium batteries
24.10.2016 | Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science

nachricht 'Super yeast' has the power to improve economics of biofuels
18.10.2016 | University of Wisconsin-Madison

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

First-time reconstruction of infectious bat influenza viruses

25.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Novel method to benchmark and improve the performance of protein measumeasurement techniques

25.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Amazon rain helps make more rain

25.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>