Researchers Extract Plant Material for Use in Solar-Energy Harvesting
The University of Georgiaís Ramaraja Ramasamy, right, and Yogeswaran Umasankar work together to capture energy created during photosynthesis. The two researchers worked on a project to develop technology that can interrupt this process so plant material can be used to harvest solar energy in solar cells. (Source: University of Georgia)
This really is a great discovery because it shows that they have obtained an adequate understanding of the actual mechanism so that they can obtain electrical energy directly.That portion is awsome. Now the challenge will be to enhance the process so that it is scaleable up to useful levels. After that, the remaining concerns would be the process lifetime and moving it to a commercially worthwhile product. Just because something works, even works well, does not mean that it can be a commercially viable thing. It might simply cost to much, but we don't know yet.
Thanks for that perspective, etmax. I completely understand where you're coming from, and you're right, longevity would be a tricky issue here. I think the truth about efficiency is somehwere in the middle of the researchers' claim and Wikipedia's info, but I suppose it will take testing and use of this technology to get to the truth. I still think it's quite promising, as you point out.
I agree Elizabeth, the other thing is that if it's a chemical process rather that drawing ingots slicing slivers and etching microscopic structures I'd say that there is an opprotunity perhaps to make them so cheaply that you cover everything. The downside of biodegradable is of course longevity. In a plant the whoile process is continually renewed where as in a man-made panel the lifetime may be only a year or 2. Still if they cost $1 per kW that may not matter. BTW, I think probably it's not so much hyperbole on the part of the researcher but rather the narrow focus of their claim was not obvious to the reporter. I must say without a wonderful resource like Wikipedia I wouldn't have been able to pursue my hunch.
I came a bit late to these comments so now I'm seeing yours, karl. So it seems that researchesr are not exaggerating and the figure is 100 percent efficiency for converting sunlight into energy? I think we can all agree this research provides an interesting prospect for organic solar cells and has some real potential to benefit their development. Thanks to everyone for bringing up these important points!
Interesting observation, etmax. So it seems like we are catching a researcher in a bit of hyperbole. I think perhaps the greater benefit here is the organic nature of the material--better for the environment. And perhaps with engineering researchers can achieve even greater efficiency.
Sometimes we can learn a lot from nature, but nature's way of doing things is not always the best way for humans to achieve the same purpose. That is why we have airplanes instead of ornithopters. Flapping wings work well for birds but would be way to complicated for a human-built flying machine. The question will be if this process can improve upon the efficiency of our current solar cells, and I think it will take a lot of research and development to get there.
Thanks Karl, points well made but I think if you used the measure of how much of the solar radiation is a lattice match for Silicon (very narrow view) we would see higher numbers from silicon too up to 86% (although not as high as just the thylakoids). There's an IEEE article that suggests that quantum efficiencies of solar cells can exceed unity as sometimes two electrons are released for one photon. That's why I see narrowing the field of view to one thing only and not stating that is somewhat misleading. I'm not saying they are deliberately misleading us, more likely is a reporter left all of the stuff out he didn't understand resulting in the article.