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Biohybrid solar cells use spinach for increased energy output

With the high cost of solar cells proving to be one of the biggest hurdle in the global adoption of solar energy, research groups over the world are coming up with technologies that help in manufacturing solar cells from readily available materials, replacing expensive materials such as platinum and indium. While most research groups are trying to swap expensive materials with metals such as zinc and copper, researchers at Vanderbilt University have found an extremely cheap and readily available product for the job – spinach.

The team here has developed a way to combine the photosynthetic protein that converts incident sunlight into electrochemical energy in spinach with silicon. The blend is being claimed to produce substantially large amount of electrical current than comparable biohybrid solar cells under development in other parts of the world. The scientists extracted Photosystem 1 (PS1) protein from spinach, which can continue to function even after being extracted from the plant. PS1 converts sunlight into electrical energy with nearly 100 percent efficiency, making it ideal for solar energy generation.

Like all other advancements in solar energy technology, this one too has a couple of issues that need to be sorted out before you can start cultivating spinach. The researchers’ state that they can make solar cells using the technology, but the amount of power these biohybrid cells produces is quite low and there are concerns regarding the longevity of these devices. The research team reports that their PS1/silicon solar cell produces nearly a milliamp of current per square centimeter at 0.3 volts and the team’s PS1 cell worked for nearly nine months without showing any degradation in performance. However, the team is confident that at the rate at which they are increasing voltage and current levels, they could reach the range of mature solar conversion technologies in three years time.

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