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Spinach to Make Solar Panels More Effective

By - Source: Softpedia | B 21 comments

Solar panels learn a lesson from Popeye the sailor.

We all know how versatile spinach is in the kitchen, but who would've thought it could prove itself worthy in technological applications as well? According to a team of scientists over at Vanderbilt University, certain properties found inside spinach can be harnessed in order to generate electricity.

Like many plants, spinach contains a photosynthetic protein that converts light into electrochemical energy. Knowing this, the team harnessed the protein from spinach and combined it with silicon, a material commonly used in the creation of solar cells. The result is a "biohybrid" solar cell may eventually lead to more efficient solar panels.

"This combination produces current levels almost 1,000 times higher than we were able to achieve by depositing the protein on various types of metals. It also produces a modest increase in voltage,” lead scientist David Cliffel explained. “If we can continue on our current trajectory of increasing voltage and current levels, we could reach the range of mature solar conversion technologies in three years.”

But why spinach over other plants? According to Cliffel, spinach contains a certain protein used in photosynthesis that can continue to function well after it is extracted. Called PS1, the protein is known to convert sunlight into electrical energy with close to 100% efficiency, a considerable leap compared to the 40% achieved by modern devices.

“Nature knows how to do this extremely well. In evergreen trees, for example, PS1 lasts for years,” Cliffel noted. “We just have to figure out how to do it ourselves.” For more information on the project, head on over to the Vanderbilt University article here.

 

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Top Comments
  • 13 Hide
    guru_urug , September 23, 2012 10:07 AM
    Try adding a few drops of Olive Oil to that and see the improvement ;) 
  • 13 Hide
    tobalaz , September 23, 2012 7:31 AM
    Because Popeye knew best!
    Whodathunk a cartoon would have been prophetic right?
Other Comments
  • 13 Hide
    tobalaz , September 23, 2012 7:31 AM
    Because Popeye knew best!
    Whodathunk a cartoon would have been prophetic right?
  • Display all 21 comments.
  • 4 Hide
    doive1231 , September 23, 2012 8:01 AM
    Just shows the value of Nature and that we shouldn't destroy it.
  • -5 Hide
    jessecaimon , September 23, 2012 8:19 AM
    We should save our earth then!
  • 2 Hide
    memadmax , September 23, 2012 8:59 AM
    Yuk spinach.
    Oh well, this makes up for it lol ;P
  • 5 Hide
    JOSHSKORN , September 23, 2012 9:05 AM
    I think Popeye was onto something.
  • 13 Hide
    guru_urug , September 23, 2012 10:07 AM
    Try adding a few drops of Olive Oil to that and see the improvement ;) 
  • 3 Hide
    CaedenV , September 23, 2012 11:51 AM
    wait a sec... isn't this a reprint of an article done a few weeks ago (which cannot be found now)?
    If memory serves correctly, in that article the 40% improvement was over traditional bio-solar solutions, which is still years behind traditional PV panels, and there was also an issue of the panels only being good for 3-5 years compared to the 20-30 years of traditional PV panels.
  • 2 Hide
    wannabepro , September 23, 2012 2:42 PM
    CaedenV, I seem to remember exactly the same thing..
  • 3 Hide
    master_chen , September 23, 2012 3:46 PM
    Again? There's already article on that, on Tom's.
  • 1 Hide
    eklipz330 , September 23, 2012 4:42 PM
    tobalazBecause Popeye knew best!Whodathunk a cartoon would have been prophetic right?

    you think that's crazy? a study was done with spinach... those who ate it before and after had 20% more gains in muscle than those that didn't.. of course it was like 2 lbs of spinach but IM PRETTY SURE THOSE CANS HE ATE WERE PACKED!
  • 4 Hide
    f-14 , September 23, 2012 5:16 PM
    hold the horses, i read the linked article and i believe this author has jumped the gun thru misunderstanding or manipulative presentation on the linked site. vanderbuilt seems to be talking about hybrid solar cells vs other hybrid cells and not the 100% man made solar cells with no green tech in them aka metallic solar cells vs plant silicon solar cells is not being directly compared, just hybrid vs hybrid.

    am i missing something? my present lack of knowledge on solar cell manufacturing is very weak as i view this a poorly viable energy source from my experience of living in the northland where winter daylight hours and snow and ice and hail would make this tech worthless and is not able to produce power on demand 24-7 like hydro electric

    cite:
    spinach with silicon, the material used in solar cells, in a fashion that produces substantially more electrical current than has been reported by previous “biohybrid” solar cells.

    That is nearly two and a half times more current than the best level reported previously from a biohybrid cell.

    Photosystem 1 (PS1), continued to function when it was extracted from plants like spinach. Then they determined PS1 converts sunlight into electrical energy with nearly 100 percent efficiency, compared to conversion efficiencies of less than 40 percent achieved by manmade devices.

    note: only the ps1 as it is in the leaves which happen to be very well aligned unlike the extract which is not aligned very well because it's random when bonded to the silicon and deteriorates over a matter of years at the most as quoted in the evergreens and was never tested or measured beyond 9 months, hmmm i wonder why because the ps1 extract died? i still have a 10 year old solar calculator that works, will these solar cells work after 1-3 years when the extract dies and or just lose efficiency?

    PS1 efficiently from leaves. They have demonstrated that it can be made into cells that produce electrical current when exposed to sunlight. However, the amount of power that these biohybrid cells can produce per square inch has been substantially below that of commercial photovoltaic cells.

    Another problem has been longevity. The performance of some early test cells deteriorated after only a few weeks. In 2010, however, the Vanderbilt team kept a PS1 cell working for nine months with no deterioration in performance.

    In a leaf, all the PS1 proteins are aligned. But in the protein layer on the device, individual proteins are oriented randomly. Previous modeling work indicated that this was a major problem. When the proteins are deposited on a metallic substrate, those that are oriented in one direction provide electrons that the metal collects

    while those that are oriented in the opposite direction pull electrons out of the metal in order to fill the holes that they produce. As a result, they produce both positive and negative currents that cancel each other out to leave a very small net current flow.


    Biochemical engineer Kane Jennings. (Daniel Dubois/Vanderbilt University)
    The p-doped silicon eliminates this problem because it allows electrons to flow into PS1 but will not accept them from protein. In this manner, electrons flow through the circuit in a common direction.

    “This isn’t as good as protein alignment, but it is much

    better than what we had before,” said Jennings.
  • 0 Hide
    shin0bi272 , September 23, 2012 5:20 PM
    You know what else increases the effectiveness of solar panels? A magnifying glass.
  • 0 Hide
    f-14 , September 23, 2012 5:39 PM
    i forgot to mention in this citation
    PS1 converts sunlight into electrical energy with nearly 100 percent efficiency, compared to conversion efficiencies of less than 40 percent achieved by manmade devices.

    the 100% efficiency still produces less power than the man made devices if i understood the manipulative wording.

    “This combination produces current levels almost 1,000 times higher than we were able to achieve by depositing the protein on various types of metals. It also produces a modest increase in voltage,”
    PS1/silicon combination produces nearly a milliamp (850 microamps) of current per square centimeter at 0.3 volts. That is nearly two and a half times more current than the best level reported previously from a biohybrid cell. in current solar cells it's 1.1-2watts per centimeter
    cite:
    Quote:
    Efficiency is usually low, therefore the power production per square meter is low. An average of 110 to 200 watts per square meter. {100 centimeters to 1 meter or / by 100} and idk at what amperage
    http://www.kompulsa.com/index.php/energy-index/solar-power/

    would be like the system builder marathons with the power consumption factor negating the score where the performance score would lead a crushing victory for the high end machines.

    when you live outside of the rolling black out land every summer known as ecoterrorist california, you don't care about how much electricity you use and at $0.08 per kwh, you build more power plants as needed, heck there are even some brand new power plants not even being used in the midwest such as north dakota spiritwood station run by great river enegry
  • -1 Hide
    livebriand , September 23, 2012 7:31 PM
    In that case, maybe I don't hate spinach anymore.
  • -1 Hide
    IndignantSkeptic , September 23, 2012 7:45 PM
    shin0bi272You know what else increases the effectiveness of solar panels? A magnifying glass.


    Wouldn't that only really work if the magnifying glass is bigger than the solar panel?
  • 0 Hide
    SirTrollsALot , September 23, 2012 7:53 PM
    You know... If the U.S. oil/energy companies weren't in bed with the government. We'd probably had more time in the past to figure this out back in the 1950/60's... But whomever solicited that whore of a country China (I'm not dissing the people, but their gov.) , that basically fakked it up and nailed lid to the coffin shut for any of this to really matter anymore...
  • -2 Hide
    caparc , September 24, 2012 12:23 AM
    Plant a tree, wait 100 million years, dig up the black carbon remains, use it to fire a boiler, drive a generator, send it down the wire to your toaster, viola! Solar power. If that causes the seas to rise, guess what, we'll all move to higher ground before we turn off the lights. The spinach project has to be government funded.
  • -1 Hide
    bin1127 , September 24, 2012 6:12 AM
    IndignantSkepticWouldn't that only really work if the magnifying glass is bigger than the solar panel?


    It's like those solar condenser arrays they're building in deserts around the world.

    This is a great find. Biomimicry should be our direction for all future technological development. Nature had 5 billion years to figure this out, we should be copying it instead of destroying it. If only renewable energy didn't have a budget of a garage hobby then things would really take off.
  • 0 Hide
    cats_Paw , September 24, 2012 7:04 AM
    This sounds very interesting. Perhaps we will see a golden age before a WW3 after all >D.
  • 0 Hide
    spookyman , September 24, 2012 2:17 PM
    I know I reproduce a bowl of fecal based fertilizer after eating some Spinach. You could take that and burn it for fuel or other applications.
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