These days there’s a lot of talk about organic solar power. Usually this means something like a using a small organic molecule polymer to convert sunlight into electricity. New York’s Binghamton University is taking a different approach and has developed a biological solar cell that can produce electricity using bacteria to convert photons into electric current.
The researchers used commonly found cyanobacteria as the base of their device. They changed the materials used in anodes and cathodes (positive and negative terminals) of the cell and created a miniature microfluidic-based single-chambered device to house the bacteria instead of the conventional, dual-chambered bio-solar cells, according to the university. In addition, they connected nine of the cells in a 3x3 pattern, making a scalable and stackable device. “The panel continuously generated electricity from photosynthesis and respiratory activities of the bacteria in 12-hour day-night cycles over 60 total hours,” the university said.
The researchers will publish their findings in the June issue of the journal Sensors and Actuators B: Chemical. “For the first time ever, researchers connected nine biological-solar (bio-solar) cells into a bio-solar panel. Then they continuously produced electricity from the panel and generated the most wattage of any existing small-scale bio-solar cells—5.59 microwatts,” Binghamton University said of the research. The findings will be published under the title "Biopower generation in a microfluidic bio-solar panel.”
However, don’t expect these to replace a normal solar panel any time soon. “Even with the breakthrough, a typical ‘traditional’ solar panel on the roof of a residential house, made up of 60 cells in a 6x10 configuration, generates roughly 200 watts of electrical power at a given moment. The cells from this study, in a similar configuration, would generate about 0.00003726 watts,” the university reported.
However, ”Once a functional bio-solar panel becomes available, it could become a permanent power source for supplying long-term power for small, wireless telemetry systems as well as wireless sensors used at remote sites where frequent battery replacement is impractical," explained Seokheun "Sean" Choi, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Binghamton and co-author of the paper. His co-authors were graduate student Xuejian Wei and student Hankeun Lee.
"This research could also enable crucial understanding of the photosynthetic extracellular electron transfer processes in a smaller group of microorganisms with excellent control over the microenvironment, thereby enabling a versatile platform for fundamental bio-solar cell studies," Choi stated.
Such research could eventually lead to higher power and voltage bio-solar devices, which could ultimately create a new way of harnessing the sun’s power in a more sustainable way, with a photovoltaic device that regenerates itself. However the scientists called for more research and pointed out that it’s still a long way off before such a real-world device could be realized. It’s just one of many new technologies being investigated for future generations of organic solar cells.Tweet