Nav: Home

Secrets of fluorescent microalgae could lead to super-efficient solar cells

May 09, 2019

Tiny light-emitting microalgae, found in the ocean, could hold the secret to the next generation of organic solar cells, according to new research carried out at the Universities of Birmingham and Utrecht.

Microalgae are probably the oldest surviving living organisms on the planet. They have evolved over billions of years to possess light harvesting systems that are up to 95 per cent efficient. This enables them to survive in the most extreme environments, and adapt to changes our world has seen over this time-span.

Unravelling how this system works could yield important clues about how it could be used or recreated for use in new, super-efficient organic solar panels. Because of the complexity of the organisms and the huge variety of different species, however, progress in this area has been limited.

The team made use of some of the advanced methods of a technique called mass spectrometry, which enabled them to characterize individual components of the algae light-harvesting system. This approach enabled them to reveal details of distinct modules of the system that have never been seen before. This fine detail will help scientists understand why microalgae are so efficient at light harvesting.

Aneika Leney, in the School of Biosciences, at the University of Birmingham, is one lead author on the study, which is published in Cell Chem. "Microalgae are fascinating organisms that can do things so much better than systems designed by engineers," she explains. "By applying this knowledge, we can start to make real progress towards adapting these systems for use in solar panels."

Professor Albert Heck, Scientific Director of the Netherlands Proteomics Centre, Utrecht University, added: "Our presumption is that when you see algae, they look sluggish and certainly not very interesting. But when you look into the molecular details of their machineries that make them convert sun light into energy so efficiently, you think these are more sophisticated than the most sophisticated Swiss watch. This needs to be the product of 3 billion years of fine-tuning, called evolution."

The next step for the team will be to study in more detail how energy is transferred through these light-harvesting systems and pinpoint why the modules they have identified are so efficient. "With most solar panels on the UK homes operating at 10-20 per cent efficiency, increasing this efficiency to 95 per cent will dramatically increase the use of solar power technology and in doing so help protect the environment," adds Dr Leney.
-end-
Notes to editor:
  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world's top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers, teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.
  • Leney, Heck et al (2019). 'A Colorful Pallet of B-phycoerythrin Proteoforms Exposed by a Multimodal Mass Spectrometry. Cell Chem.


University of Birmingham

Related Solar Panels Articles:

NASA's solar dynamics observatory captured trio of solar flares April 2-3
The sun emitted a trio of mid-level solar flares on April 2-3, 2017.
Chemists create molecular 'leaf' that collects and stores solar power without solar panels
An international research team centered at Indiana University have engineered a molecule that uses light or electricity to convert the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide -- a carbon-neutral fuel source -- more efficiently than any other method of 'carbon reduction.' The discovery, reported today in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, is a new milestone in the quest to recycle carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere into carbon-neutral fuels and others materials.
Lotus stir-fry scores high in consumer panels
A report details potential demand and consumer preference for fresh lotus rhizomes and products such as lotus salad, baked lotus chips, and lotus stir-fry.
A new way to image solar cells in 3-D
Berkeley Lab scientists have developed a way to use optical microscopy to map thin-film solar cells in 3-D as they absorb photons.
Web panels build customer loyalty
Customers who are asked to participate in retailer-sponsored Web panels feel valued by being invited to take part and tend to express their gratitude by buying more and across more different product categories.
More Solar Panels News and Solar Panels Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans
More than test scores or good grades — what do kids need to prepare them for the future? This hour, guest host Manoush Zomorodi and TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, in and out of the classroom. Guests include educators Olympia Della Flora and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#534 Bacteria are Coming for Your OJ
What makes breakfast, breakfast? Well, according to every movie and TV show we've ever seen, a big glass of orange juice is basically required. But our morning grapefruit might be in danger. Why? Citrus greening, a bacteria carried by a bug, has infected 90% of the citrus groves in Florida. It's coming for your OJ. We'll talk with University of Maryland plant virologist Anne Simon about ways to stop the citrus killer, and with science writer and journalist Maryn McKenna about why throwing antibiotics at the problem is probably not the solution. Related links: A Review of the Citrus Greening...