In Tennessee, jellyfish goo is among the materials being evaluated for biosolar applications, an emerging field of research that aims to leverage the ultra-efficient photosynthetic processes of biological systems to create hybrid solar panels.
Conventional solar panels have a number of disadvantages, namely the use of toxic materials, energy-intensive production, and low efficiency. “Most silicon panels have to run for eight to 10 years before they recover the energy it took to make them,” Barry Bruce, a professor of biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology at the University of Tennessee who is working on biosolar power, tells Salon. “So there’s room for improvement.”
Unlike solar panels, biological systems can generate electricity in the dark via bacterial respiration. They are also self-assembling and self-repairing. In addition to jellyfish, algae, bacteria, and plants are under evaluation. Bruce’s lab is evaluating ways to extract reaction centers from these organisms to create a “paste” of biobased material that can be painted onto conductive sheets to form a hybrid solar cell for low-power devices.
The output of these systems are still far below typical solar cells, but Seokheun Choi, director of Bingham University’s Bioelectronics and Microsystems Lab, says there are a number of ways to overcome this. “Genetically engineered bacteria will be one of them.”