Photosynthesis on a Chip

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Most solar companies use silicon to turn solar energy into electrical energy, but researchers at the University of Tel Aviv have recently moved to go green in more of a literal sense. Rather than silicon, they’re using bio-engineered plant proteins to build their PV base. This is very cool, and they aren’t the only ones.

Researchers at Cambridge University, MIT, Stanford and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory are also trying to bio-engineer photosynthetic chips to convert the sun’s rays to AC or DC power. A company called BioSolar is trying to use plant-parts to replace the petroleum-based plastics in solar systems.

The Israeli team claims that they can convert up to 25 percent of the sun’s energy to electricity compared with 14 percent for silicon-based PV cells. They also say they can do this for $1 per square meter, whereas the same amount of silicon substrate would cost $200.

If this research makes it out of the lab, the benefits would be significant. Silicon doesn’t face as much of a shortage anymore, but the cost advantages of a plant substrate would still be substantial. It’s possible that thin-film solar advances will render the silicon-based panels obsolete in a few years, but mass production has been an ever-moving target for the thin-film guys. For now we’re still playing with the sun and sand.

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