Researchers at the University of Georgia have come up with a method of using plants to generate electricity.
Ramaraja Ramasamy, assistant professor in the UGA College of Engineering and the corresponding author of a paper describing the process in the Journal of Energy and Environmental Science said the goal was to generate cleaner power from sunlight using plant-based systems.
According to Phys.org plants have a thing or too to teach scientists about solar power. Most of them operate at nearly 100 percent quantum efficiency, meaning that for every photon of sunlight a plant captures, it produces an equal number of electrons. The best solar panels can do is 12 and 17 percent
Ramasamy has come up with a way to interrupt photosynthesis so that electrons can be captured before the plant uses them to make sugars.
This involves separating out plant cell thylakoids, which are responsible for capturing and storing energy from sunlight. He then manipulates the proteins contained in the thylakoid.
These modified thylakoids are immobilised and stuck on the back of carbon nanotubes which act as an electrical conductor, capturing the electrons from the plant material and sending them along a wire.
So far the system has been tested on small-scale experiments. These are double the efficiency of solar panels.
Ramasamy warned that much more work must be done before this technology reaches commercialisation. At the moment he is trying to make it a little more stable and scalable.
In the short term it might find a use in remote sensors or other portable electronic equipment that requires less power to run. However to power a house it might take other technologies like genetic engineering to enhance stability of the plant photosynthetic machineries.