A group of scientists from the University of British Columbia have managed to re-engineer the E. coli bacteria so that they can power solar cells. This study, published last week in the Small journal, resulted in cells that are able to generate stronger current than in all similar attempts made by others in the past. Interestingly, these modified bacteria do not need strong light in order to create an energy.
Genetically modified E. coli is much more effective
The key role in the process of converting sunlight into electrical current belongs to solar cells, the main components of solar panels. In the past, while trying to produce biogenic solar cells, the scientists were extracting a natural dye, which is the key for bacteria in the process of photosynthesis. However, the scientists from British Columbia, led by prof. Vikramaditya Yadav, decided against extracting the dye and instead they turned to genetic engineering in order to allow the E. coli to create enormous amounts of a strong photoactive pigment, called lycopene. After that, the researchers covered the bacteria with a mineral composed of TiO2 nanoparticles, acting as a semiconductor, and then the resulting mixture was added to a glass surface, increasing its photovoltaic response.
Through this process, the scientists reached a remarkable current density of 0.686 milliamps per sq cm, compared to 0.362 recorded by others.
Cheaper and more efficient solar energy
According to Yadav, the new process could lower the cost of bacterial dye production by even one-tenth. The next task of the team is to develop a process of preserving the bacteria, which would allow the microbes to generate dye continuously.
Additionally, these new solar cells are able to work just fine even in low-light environment, which could make them extremely helpful in places such as mines or deep seas.
Brad is a former Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, is an award-winning travel, culture, and parenting writer. His writing has appeared in many of the Canada’s most respected and credible publications, including the Toronto Star, CBC News and on the cover of Smithsonian Magazine. A meticulous researcher who’s not afraid to be controversial, he is nationally known as a journalist who opens people’s eyes to the realities behind accepted practices in the care of children. Brad is a contributing journalist to Advocator.ca