Boffins from MIT have been able to turn anything green like grass clippings and other garden waste into low-tech, cheap and dirty solar power generators. They’re taking the photosynthesising complexes out of plants to create electricity-generating solar cells that you could make yourself.
The complex of molecules that turn light into electricity is called photosystem-I (PS-I) and forms part of the energy generation system that some algae, bacteria and most plants rely on. The original effort to turn these natural solar power stations into solar cells was difficult and costly. Now Andreas Mershin, an MIT researcher, has simplified the process to the point where any school could build them. Using just cheap chemicals, it could genuinely provide a DIY solution for generating power from our sun, and should be great for those in sunny climates that aren’t hooked up to the grid yet.
Mershin reckons you could get the process down to just “one sheet of cartoon instructions, with no words.” The few chemicals needed will be made available in cheap plastic bags meaning anyone should be able to just “take that bag, mix it with anything green and paint it on the roof”.
Unfortunately the system, like most other forms of solar power, is still pretty inefficient. Mershin thinks the answer is to follow nature and make a something “like an electric nanoforest”. A load of tiny trees made of of zinc oxide nanowires coated in titanium dioxide to hold the light sensitive mixture to its branches could be a beautiful answer. It should up the power generation substantially compared to a flat solar panel due to the increase the surface area exposed to the sun's rays, but now it’s so simple to create the PS-I coating, Mershin is expecting people take the idea and run with it. Many hands hopefully make light work -- who knows, we could see something that we could even paint on our roofs in Britain to generate our own power.
The idea of cheap solar cells is fantastic. DIY electricity generation for anyone anywhere on the cheap -- count me in. But the image I’ve got in my head of an awesome looking electric nanoforest is even better. I want one, even if it’s just mounted in a light-up plant pot by the window. [via ExtremeTech]