The future of solar-powered devices might lie in plant technology

I’m sure there’s a “green energy” pun that can be applied to this article’s title, let alone this article as a whole. So let’s get that out of the way right now and let’s start thinking green. Ok ok, sorry. I had to. Solar powered devices have their advantages in converting light to energy, but the biggest disadvantage is that you require a lot of photoreceptors to produce a small amount of energy. When it comes to power-hungry devices like laptops or automobiles, solar power may not be the best primary source of power. Of course we have seen it work before but there is a lot of energy loss and there are many technological barriers that exist against bringing solar-powered devices on par with their less eco-friendly counterparts. One of the biggest barriers is boosting solar efficiency beyond the 6% to 25% efficiency levels that today’s technology peaks at. Furthermore, there’s no such thing as 100% energy efficiency, right? I mean, there has to be some sort of loss in energy no matter what the process. Unless there’s something out there that comes really damn close to perfect efficiency levels….

You guessed it, plants absorb, store, and use energy with near 100% efficiency! So does that mean our new BMW will be covered in algae instead of paint? Not really, but the approach scientists are researching is more on the lines of bio-neural circuitry that is straight out of science-fiction. Greg Scholes of the University of Toronto and Alexandra Olaya-Castro of the University College of London co-authored an article that was published last Friday in Nature Chemistry that outlined plausible theories on how to duplicate the energy harnessing power of plants in modern-day devices. The plan is to make “a biological-based circuit that uses the quantum mechanical effects of light as it excites molecules of pigments and colors found in nature.” Scholes and Olaya-Castro have re-written some theories as to how plants gather energy and their findings can allow scientists to produce a more accurate model in the artificial creation of the entire plant energy-gathering process.

The paper gives specific instructions on what properties in plants scientists should focus on and how to focus on them. So should you expect a biodegradable iPad anytime soon? No, however their research has brought us a step closer to concepts like the Mercedes-Benz Biome becoming a reality. Aside from the problem of figuring out how to artificially mimic the properties of plants, the issue of making sure that devices have a shelf life of at least 20 years without degrading into compost also exists. At least scientists now have the “green light” to experiment with these new concepts and theories.


Hat tip to StyxaT

Source : Discovery News