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 Multiregional brain on a chip
16.01.2017 | Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

nachricht Researchers develop environmentally friendly soy air filter
16.01.2017 | Washington State University

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: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

Im Focus: How to inflate a hardened concrete shell with a weight of 80 t

At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).

Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...

Im Focus: Bacterial Pac Man molecule snaps at sugar

Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.

The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...

Im Focus: Newly proposed reference datasets improve weather satellite data quality

UMD, NOAA collaboration demonstrates suitability of in-orbit datasets for weather satellite calibration

"Traffic and weather, together on the hour!" blasts your local radio station, while your smartphone knows the weather halfway across the world. A network of...

Im Focus: Repairing defects in fiber-reinforced plastics more efficiently

Fiber-reinforced plastics (FRP) are frequently used in the aeronautic and automobile industry. However, the repair of workpieces made of these composite materials is often less profitable than exchanging the part. In order to increase the lifetime of FRP parts and to make them more eco-efficient, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) and the Apodius GmbH want to combine a new measuring device for fiber layer orientation with an innovative laser-based repair process.

Defects in FRP pieces may be production or operation-related. Whether or not repair is cost-effective depends on the geometry of the defective area, the tools...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

Nothing will happen without batteries making it happen!

05.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Multiregional brain on a chip

16.01.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

New technology enables 5-D imaging in live animals, humans

16.01.2017 | Information Technology

Researchers develop environmentally friendly soy air filter

16.01.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>