Navigation Links
Solar cells more efficient than photosynthesis -- for now
Date:5/12/2011

EAST LANSING, Mich. In a head-to-head battle of harvesting the sun's energy, solar cells beat plants, according to a new paper in Science. But scientists think they can even up the playing field, says researcher David Kramer at Michigan State University.

Plants are less efficient at capturing the energy in sunlight than solar cells mostly because they have too much evolutionary baggage. Plants have to power a living thing, whereas solar cells only have to send electricity down a wire. This is a big difference because if photosynthesis makes a mistake, it makes toxic byproducts that kill the organism. Photosynthesis has to be conservative to avoid killing the organisms it powers.

"This is critical since it's the process that powers all of life in our ecosystem," said Kramer, a Hannah Distinguished Professor of Photosynthesis and Bioenergetics. "The efficiency of photosynthesis, and our ability to improve it, is critical to whether the entire biofuels industry is viable."

While photosynthesis is less efficient on a pure energy basis, it has the advantage of producing high-energy liquid fuels. (It also makes all of our food, and is thus essential for life). The paper summarizes several specific approaches to improving photosynthesis, some likely achievable in the short term, some more involved.

In truth, the competition really isn't fair unless the term "efficiency" is first defined. At a bare minimum it isn't fair to compare plants that package the sun's energy in handy little stored-fuel vessels (carbon-based molecules) to solar cells that just take the first step of converting the sun's energy to jazzed-up electrons. Fairer would be to compare plants to solar cell arrays that also store energy in chemical bonds.

The point of the comparison is not to make us throw plants on the compost pile, the researchers said. For one, efficiency is only one consideration among many in the choice among energy technologies. More important are life-cycle costs, the capital cost and valuation of the environmental impact of a product from its creation to its destruction.

Still the comparison is useful because it's leading the exploration of why plants are so inefficient and what can be done to improve their efficiency. Genetic engineering and the more aggressive techniques of synthetic biology the marriage of biology and engineering to design and construct systems and metabolic pathways not found in nature could speed things up considerably.

The experts suggested, for example, replacing one of the two photosystems in plants that handle the light-dependent reactions with a photosystem from a species of cyanobacteria. The photosystems in most plants compete for the same piece of the solar spectrum, cutting the energy efficiency nearly in half. But some cyanobacteria absorb light from an entirely different part of the spectrum. Basically, it would be the biological equivalent of a tandem solar cell, which is very efficient.


'/>"/>

Contact: Layne Cameron
layne.cameron@ur.msu.edu
517-353-8819
Michigan State University
Source:Eurekalert

Related biology news :

1. NRELs multi-junction solar cells teach scientists how to turn plants into powerhouses
2. MIT researchers use virus to improve solar-cell efficiency
3. Toward a more efficient use of solar energy
4. Switching to solar
5. Toward a green grid for delivering solar and wind-based electricity
6. UMD Solar Decathlon team unveils WaterShed
7. Size matters: Smaller particles could make solar panels more efficient
8. Neutron analysis yields insight into bacteria for solar energy
9. Solar greenhouses: Chinas winning solution to global energy crisis
10. Solar power systems could lighten the load for British soldiers
11. Floating solar panels
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:1/11/2016)... CHICAGO , Jan. 11, 2016  higi, ... via nearly 10,000 retail locations, web and mobile, ... than $40 million from existing investors. ... will be devoted to further innovate higi,s health ... app and web portal – including expanding services ...
(Date:1/7/2016)... -- This BCC Research report studies the global as ... identifying newer markets and exploring the expansion of the ... Includes forecast from 2015 to 2020. Use ... the expansion of the present application market for various ... technology, determine its current market size, and estimate the ...
(Date:1/6/2016)... 2016  Varam Capital, a provider of micro-finance inclusion ... deliver advanced authentication solutions to their clients. Varam supplies ... A loan of a few thousand rupees may make ... ability to purchase livestock or equipment for a small ... for a local store. ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:2/3/2016)... 2016  Discovery Laboratories, Inc. (NASDAQ: DSCO ... KL4 surfactant therapies for respiratory diseases, today announced ... inducement award as a component of employment compensation ... President and Chief Executive Officer.  The award was ... 1, 2016 and granted as an inducement material ...
(Date:2/3/2016)... Ascendis Pharma A/S (Nasdaq: ASND ), ... TransCon technology to address significant unmet medical needs, today ... Leerink Partners Global Healthcare Conference Location: , Waldorf ... 2016 Time:  , 11:55am EST www.ascendispharma.com ... An audio webcast of this event will be posted ...
(Date:2/3/2016)... , Feb. 3, 2016 New ... more than $1 million for researchers in ... on health-related research that demonstrates exciting potential.   ... of funding for the New Jersey Health Foundation Research ... members at these educational institutions— Princeton University, Rutgers ...
(Date:2/3/2016)... ... 2016 , ... ProMIS Neurosciences is currently in the process ... propagating strains of Amyloid beta involved in Alzheimer’s disease. The Company plans to ... on from the first misfolded Amyloid beta target announced on Nov. 12, 2015, ...
Breaking Biology Technology: