Light-Harvesting Algae Could Increase Solar Panel Efficiency to 95%

by Ruth Seeley

Ocean-dwelling, light-emitting microalgae have evolved over billions of years to ensure their survival in the most extreme environments. They also have light-harvesting systems that are up to 95% efficient.

How they do so has been difficult to study both because of the huge variety of species and the complexity of the organisms. But unraveling how they do what they do could yield important clues about their technique. And those techniques could be used or recreated to make new, super-efficient organic solar panels.

Scientists at Birmingham and Utrecht universities have made use of the advanced mass spectrometry method to characterize individual components of the algae light-harvesting system. This approach enabled them to reveal details of distinct modules of the system that have never been seen before. This fine detail will help scientists understand why microalgae are so efficient at light harvesting.

Aneika Leney, lead author of a study published in Cell Chem, said, “Microalgae are fascinating organisms that can do things so much better than systems designed by engineers,” she explains. “By applying this knowledge, we can start to make real progress towards adapting these systems for use in solar panels.”

The next step for the team will be to study in more detail how energy is transferred through these light-harvesting systems and pinpoint why the modules they have identified are so efficient. “With most solar panels on UK homes operating at 10 to 20% efficiency, increasing this efficiency to 95% will dramatically increase the use of solar power technology and in doing so help protect the environment,” added Dr. Leney.

Source:  University of Birmingham


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