Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Engineer pursues biological solar power

11.02.2015

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:
http://discovere.binghamton.edu/news/biosolar-5986.html

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht Multicrystalline Silicon Solar Cell with 21.9 % Efficiency: Fraunhofer ISE Again Holds World Record
20.02.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Solare Energiesysteme ISE

nachricht Six-legged robots faster than nature-inspired gait
17.02.2017 | Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

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: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Impacts of mass coral die-off on Indian Ocean reefs revealed

21.02.2017 | Earth Sciences

Novel breast tomosynthesis technique reduces screening recall rate

21.02.2017 | Medical Engineering

Use your Voice – and Smart Homes will “LISTEN”

21.02.2017 | Trade Fair News

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>