Every now and then we catch wind of a new solar power breakthrough. Often they are miles away from being commercially viable and represent the first steps of a research that needs further work on. But they indicate how much scope there is for research in the solar power field.
One story that took hold of the tech media’s interest this past week came out of MIT via one its researchers, Andreas Mershin. Mr. Mershin is researching the possibility of using agricultural waste, such as cut grass and dead leaves, to create solar panels. The idea sounds pretty far-fetched, but Mershin says it may be possible to generate solar power by adding chemicals to grass clippings. The result of that would be a paint that could be applied to the rooftop of a house to generate electricity.
The research uses photosynthesis (the conversion of sunlight to energy by plants) as a starting point. Mershin discovered a process to extract the photosynthesizing molecules from plant matter. He called the process Photosystem I and it involves stabilizing the molecules, spreading them on a glass substrate covered in a ‘forest’ of zinc oxide nanowires and titanium dioxide ‘sponges’. What he’s done is to replace the silicon found in conventional PV cells with photosynthesizing molecules. “It’s like an electric nanoforest,” said Mershin.
Before you start collecting leaves to generate solar power, beware that Mershin’s process’ efficiency rate is very low: only 0.1%. In order to get any decent amount of solar power, it will be necessary to boost it to 1% or 2%. Because such rates are fairly low as well, Mershin believes other scientists could work on increasing the efficiency of his technology.
We hope someone will do that because the idea has the potential to capture the world’s imagination and add a pleasantly organic touch to solar power technology.