By Cameron Chai
Barry D. Bruce from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, together with scientists from the Ecole Polytechnique Federale and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have designed a novel system that uses photosynthetic processes to generate efficient and low-cost energy, paving the way to develop green electricity easily and economically.
Barry D. Bruce
Bruce is recognized for his early work that demonstrates the production of biosolar electricity. According to Bruce, unlike traditional photovoltaic solar power systems, the novel method uses renewable biological materials instead of adverse chemicals for producing electricity. Moreover, the system will need less water, land, time and input of fossil fuels to generate energy when compared to most of the biofuels, he added.
In the unique method, the researchers used photosystem-I (PSI), a core component of photosynthesis, from blue-green algae. They then bioengineered this complex in order to work with a semiconductor, which generates electricity through the photosynthesis process when illuminated. This system is capable of assembling itself thanks to its engineered properties. It is also easier to replicate and highly efficient when compared to Bruce’s earlier work, thus allowing further optimization.
This green solar cell is a combination of biological and non-biological materials. Tiny zinc oxide tubes are the non-biological materials and PSI particles are the biological materials. These small tubes are bioengineered to be coated with PSI particles, allowing the close integration of the two materials on the metal oxide interface. When this interface is illuminated by sunlight, the PSI particles get excited and generate an electron. This electron generates an electric current when it flows into the metal oxide semiconductor. The ability of Bruce to isolate and bioengineer the PSI complexes plays a major role in this biosolar process.