- Conventional solar panels are not that viable for low sunlight areas.
- A team of researchers managed to create a new type of solar panels which can work efficiently in low light.
- They used a bacteria called E.coli in order to replicate photosynthesis from plants and apply them to solar panels.
- They are not yet ready for public use yet and still has problems keeping the bacteria alive.
- If completed, though, they can be used virtually anywhere on the planet with a hint of sunlight and still produce electricity.
Solar panels are not bulletproof, technologically speaking of course. They are still a technology in progress and always have room for improvement. That quality in solar power technology can be a double-edged sword since while the possibilities are limitless, there can be a lot of drawbacks until solar panels reach their full potential.
One ongoing consumer gripe about solar panels would be their inability to maximize their production capacity without direct sunlight. It is true that solar panels can sometimes struggle when the weather is cloudy or rainy. After all, solar panels rely heavily on direct sunlight, at least the Photovoltaic models, which are the most common ones.
This is one of the disadvantageous limitations of solar panels because the only places where they can be maximized would be sunny areas. Regions with little to no direct sunlight during certain times of the year might have problems meeting reliable power quotas from solar panels because efficiency during cloudy weathers gets decreased anywhere from 10 to 30 percent depending on the brand.
New kid in town
Well, all of that is about to change right now, there is a game changer in the solar power industry and it is quite peculiar. Some dedicated researchers from the University of British Columbia have managed to invent solar panels which can work in low-light conditions efficiently. It is quite a breakthrough, just think of the possible applications and further developments, we might even get solar panels which work at night, bet let’s not get too ahead.
So how did this brilliant team of researchers manage to eliminate one of the most glaring problems of solar panels? With bacteria. You read that right, a certain strain of bacteria was used and incorporated with the construction of solar cells. As such, they were able to work effectively in a variety of lighting conditions.
They are so called, biogenic solar cells and they are one of the most ingenious inventions in the field of renewable energy. The researchers used a bacteria called E.coli which they genetically engineered to produce lycopene in spades. Lycopene, as some of you may be familiar with, is the molecule that gives tomatoes their reddish tint.
The reason they used lycopene is that it is a natural dye and natural dyes are great at absorbing sunlight. Hence, the redness of a tomato is based on how much sunlight its lycopene absorbs. Furthermore, the research team coated the E.coli with a mineral that can be used as a semiconductor. This bacteria and mineral mixture was then applied onto a glass surface and voila! A solar panel which works in dim light.
Plants were the first to do it though
The answer for this procedure was actually just around us, plants. Remember back in elementary or kindergarten when teachers explained how plants get their food? They get them from sunlight, water, and air. Plants have a way of converting sunlight into usable energy through a process called photosynthesis. This process is what inspired the research team to invent a new kind of solar panel.
Prior to this research and from the brilliant people of the University of British Columbia, there have been efforts to make functional biogenic cells. Previous research also looked to photosynthesis and tried to replicate the process for solar energy. Basically, the plants have all the answers for this one.
So in essence, biogenic solar cells are living organisms which can be used to harvest sunlight and turn it into electricity for human beings. Just when you thought renewable energy could not get more natural, well, this happens. However, before you get freaked out with how amazing nature is, know that the implications of this study are quite big and revolutionary.
How efficient can they be?
The researchers are confident that the biogenic solar cells they invented are efficient, perhaps even comparable to the conventional Photovoltaic solar panels. The development process for biogenic solar cells is still in progress and it is not yet ready for public use, hence no statistics and specifications are readily available at the moment. A side by side comparison is not possible yet.
However, project leader Professor Vikramaditya Yadav claimed that “These hybrid materials that we are developing can be manufactured economically and sustainably, and, with sufficient optimization, could perform at comparable efficiencies as conventional solar cells.”
This truly is an exciting time to be alive, especially if you are looking into solar energy as an alternative to your utility provider. The potential of biogenic solar cells could even be bigger than that of Photovoltaic solar cells. The fact that they are also promised to work in low light conditions efficiently could mean a lot for cities which barely have prolonged durations of sunlight.
Then there is also the projection that biogenic solar cells are much more affordable to produce than Photovoltaic panels. The cost of a biogenic solar cell is estimated to be only one-tenth that of Photovoltaic solar cells, this could drive the prices of solar power arrays even lower, making investments a lot more affordable.
Not quite ready yet
Again, let’s not get too excited for what the future of solar power holds for us human beings. The biogenic solar cells still have quite a big hurdle to jump and this is the fact that bacteria are subject to death and decay. Without nourishment, they would not last long, meaning biogenic solar cells are not that viable just yet.
However, if the research team is able to find a way to keep the bacteria alive and on the glass panels, then they will probably stay there for quite a while. All that is left is to find a way to keep the bacteria alive so that they can happily produce dyes which simulate photosynthesis.
Achieving such a process would drive the cost even lower since having an unlimited supply of E.coli producing lycopene for solar power basically means the bacteria would keep the cycle ongoing.
Once they have surpassed this hurdle, then the applications could be limitless, places like Northern Europe, Canada, mines, deep sea, and areas with little to no sunlight could have power and electricity. All thanks to bacteria and the best and brightest of humanity.