Algae discovery could improve solar power efficiency

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In the United Kingdom, researchers at the University of Birmingham are studying algae that can capture 95% of light—much more than the 10-20% captured by the most common man-made solar panels.

The key to its remarkable light-capturing abilities is phycobilisomes, which serve as antennae that collect light for the algae’s metabolism.

“Microalgae are fascinating organisms that can do things so much better than systems designed by engineers,” Aneika Leney tells Science Alert. “By applying this knowledge, we can start to make real progress towards adapting these systems for use in solar panels.”

To date, science has made little progress in applying nature’s light-capturing capabilities because algae are so complex and there are so many different algae to study.

“The ingenious control panel that algae use to convert sunlight into usable energy is more complicated than a Swiss watch,” says Albert Heck from Utrecht University in the Netherlands. “This is the product of three billion years of evolution, and engineers could learn a lot from it.”

The research has been published in Cell Chem.