Oregon Researchers Use Nano-shells of Algae to Trap Photons and Improve Solar Cell Efficiency

April 19 2009 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Energy   Year: General   Rating: 5 Hot

Oregon Diatom SolarThe Future of Energy will be based on our ability to elegantly control the interactions of light, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and metals.  And for all our engineering prowress of extracting and blowing up ancient bio-energy reserves (coal/oil), there is still so much to learn about basic energy systems from Mother Nature.

Laying Down Algae Shells for Solar Panels
Researchers from Oregon State University and Portland State University have developed a new way to make “dye-sensitized” solar cells using a 'bottom up' biological assembly processes over traditional silicon chemical engineering.

The teams are working with a type of solar cell that generates energy when 'photons bounce around like they were in a pinball machine, striking these dyes and producing electricity.'

Rather than build the solar cells using traditional technqiues, the team is tapping the outer shells of single-celled algae, known as diatoms, to improve the electrical output. (Diatoms are believed to be the ancient bio-source of petroleum.)

The team placed the algae on a transparent conductive glass surface, and then (removed) the living organic material, leaving behind the tiny skeletons of the diatoms to form a template that is integrated with nanoparticles of titanium dioxide to complete the solar cell design.

Biology's Nanostructured Shells & Bouncing Photons?
“Conventional thin-film, photo-synthesizing dyes also take photons from sunlight and transfer it to titanium dioxide, creating electricity,” said Greg Rorrer, an OSU professor of chemical engineering “But in this system the photons bounce around more inside the pores of the diatom shell, making it more efficient.”

The research team is still not clear how the process works, but 'the tiny holes in diatom shells appear to increase the interaction between photons and the dye to promote the conversion of light to electricity... potentially with a triple output of electricity.' 

According to the team, this is the 'first reported study of using a living organism to controllably fabricate semiconductor TiO2 nanostructures by a bottom-up self-assembly process.'  So, chalk up another early win for advanced bio-energy manufacturing strategies!


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Steve Jurvetson (& Bill Green): Biology and Energy (Part 2)

September 30 2008 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Energy   Year: General   Rating: 2

One of our goals at The Energy Roadmap.com is to promote Big Thinkers who are able to translate the complexities of thinking about the future of energy into basic language and simple concepts. Bio energy is an emerging energy area that is widely confused with its current manifestation (e.g. plant life; corn ethanol) versus its future evolution (e.g. algae, bacteria and synthetic biology). Once again, we turn to Steve Jurvetson- for a look at this changing bio energy landscape.

In this 4 minute ZDNET presentation clip from AlwaysOn GoingGreen conference held on September 10-12th, 2008, moderator Awais Khan of KPMG asks the panel if algae biofuels are up to task of addressing short-comings of high oil prices.

Looking forward – Synthetic Biology & Scalability
Jurvetson hints at global interest and the implications of accelerating changes via synthetic biology. Bill Green of Vantage Point Venture Partners”Bill Green of Vantage Point Venture Partners addresses the issue of scaling production based on biology.

Scaling is a commonly used barrier concept for most non-traditional forms of energy like solar and wind. Bio energy solutions (esp. algae/bacteria) will first have to overcome its own process complexities to compete against more predictable chemical engineering methods used in today’s energy industry.

Also watch Video – Part I-

Video Source: ZDNET