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Bacteria-inspired solar cell devices come closer to reality

Researchers are studying nature's most efficient light-harvesting systems that could pave way for a new generation of biologically inspired solar cell devices.

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DNA Web Team

Updated: Mar 11, 2018, 03:59 AM IST

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Researchers from the Washington University in St Louis and the department of energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory are studying nature's most efficient light-harvesting systems that could pave way for a new generation of biologically inspired solar cell devices.

The team used small-angle neutron scattering to analyse the structure of chlorosomes in green photosynthetic bacteria.

Chlorosomes are efficient at collecting sunlight for conversion to energy, even in low-light and extreme environments.

“It's one of the most efficient light harvesting antenna complexes found in nature,” said co-author and research scientist Volker Urban of ORNL's Centre for Structural Molecular Biology.

Neutron analysis performed at ORNL’s High Flux Isotope Reactor allowed the team to examine chlorosome structure under a range of thermal and ionic conditions.

“We found that their structure changed very little under all these conditions, which shows them to be very stable,” said Urban.

“This is important for potential biohybrid applications - if you wanted to use them to harvest light in synthetic materials like a hybrid solar cell, for example,” he added.

The size, shape and organisation of light-harvesting complexes such as chlorosomes are critical factors in electron transfer to semiconductor electrodes in solar devices.

Understanding how chlorosomes function in nature could help scientists mimic the chlorosome's efficiency to create robust bio hybrid or bio-inspired solar cells.

Small-angle neutron scattering enabled the team to clearly observe the complicated biological systems at a nanoscale level without damaging the samples.

“With neutrons, you have an advantage that you get a very sharp contrast between these two phases, the chlorosome and the deuterated buffer. This gives you something like a clear black and white image,” said Urban.

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