Could spinach boost solar panel efficiency?

Spinach is known for boosting energy levels but scientists have recently discovered that it could also be used to almost triple the energy efficiency  of solar photovoltaic panels.

A team of biomolecular chemists and engineers from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee have found that when silicon, a material found in solar cells, is combined with the photosynthetic protein (SP1) that is found in the green leafy vegetable, it can produce a substantially much stronger electrical current than previous biohybrid solar cells.

SP1 is a key ingredient that converts light in to electrochemical energy which helps plants to grow. When the protein was combined with silicon the electrical current produced was almost two and a half times more powerful than what has previously been reported from biohybrid solar cells. The protein was extracted from the vegetable into an aqueous solution which was then poured onto a wafer of silicon which had been specially treated.

The findings have been reported to the Advanced Materials journal, a weekly publication which features reviews and news at the cutting edge of the chemistry and physics of functional material. According to the team’s lead researcher, Professor David Cliffel, the discovery could lead to the production of new solar cells within the next three years.

“This combination produces current levels almost 1,000 times higher than we were able to achieve by depositing the protein on various types of metals,” explained Professor Cliffel. “If we can continue on our current trajectory of increasing voltage and current levels, we could reach the range of mature solar conversion technologies in three years.”

A patent for the process is currently pending. Put that in your pipe and smoke it Popeye!

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