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It Runs 'Til It's Finished When Powered By Spinach
Jamais Cascio, 28 Jun 04

Nature and Science News are reporting on research at the Laboratory of Organic Optics and Electronics at MIT using photosynthetic proteins derived from spinach to produce electricity. While the light->electricity conversion efficiency is only 12%, the researchers are confident that they'll be able to boost it to at least 20% in relatively short order. Even if they can't get it up past commercial silicon-based solar cells, protein-based cells would have some interesting advantages:

For example, many solar cell materials degrade over time, but a protein-based solar cell could be self-repairing, says [lead researcher Marc] Baldo. Just as living plants replenish their photosynthetic proteins by swapping out the old copies for new ones, it might become possible to flush a solution of fresh proteins through a solar cell to replace the photosynthetic molecules as they degrade...

While recent research has replicated some of the functions of photosynthesis, this would directly use plant proteins -- a more difficult scientific challenge, but potentially of much greater ultimate value.

(Via Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends)

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Actually, I think the most important thing about this breakthrough is that the manufacturing process sounds like it would be quite benign: grow some spinach, use some peptide surfactants & whatnot other stabilizers, and conductive clear polymer sandwich. Compare that to silicon chip fabbing, or the gallium arsenide ones, and it'll make a world of difference--both for CO2 payback time (currently 6 years for most solar cells) and for toxin production.

Posted by: Jer on 29 Jun 04



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