Biogenic Solar Cells for Electricity in Low-Light Conditions


Researchers have utilised genetic engineering to harness solar energy despite the weather conditions

Scientists from the University of British Columbia (UBC), Canada, have developed a sustainable way to build a solar cell using bacteria in order to make solar panels function even in low light. The research presents a different ideology to build biogenic solar cells.

Unconventional approach

The solar cells are made of living bacteria and hence, called ‘biogenic’. Researchers have advocated that with sufficient optimisation and further development, the biogenic cells can be as efficient as synthetic solar cells.

Solar panels are formed by integrating solar cells. Fundamentally, solar cells convert light energy into electrical energy. The team said that it takes an unconventional approach towards building biogenic cells. Estimated, previous efforts of inculcating bacteria into solar cells were based on the natural dye that bacteria use for photosynthesis.

Instead, researchers have made an attempt to genetically engineer E coli and produce lycopene, a dye reported to give tomatoes their red-orange colour. This can be specifically effective at harnessing light energy for electricity.

Keeping it ‘light’

The researchers tried to mimic the characteristics of a semiconductor by coating the bacteria with a mineral. By applying the mixture on a glass surface, they created an anode at one end of their cell and approximated a current density of 0.686mA per square centimetre.

Scientists estimated that this process can reduce the cost of dye production to about one-tenth of its original cost. The research was led by the idea of finding a process that does not kill living organisms but utilises their potential to provide solar energy in dim light conditions. The biogenic cells have been proposed with applications in materials for mining, deep-sea exploration and other low-light environments.