A Kansas State University doctoral student in chemistry, Ayomi Perera, Myprotein is doing research that contributes to Kansas’ increasing reputation as one of the central places for innovation in alternative energy.
Image Credit: Kansas State University
She has lately been working on improving dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSC), which belongs to the category of thin-film – solar cells that are highly flexible, cheap and easy to mass produce – but compared to crystalline-based solar cells, lack in efficiency.
Mimics natural photosynthesis
Photosynthesis is the name of the process that plants use to extract energy from sunlight. Dye-sensitized solar cells are engineered on the same underlying principles – very different from silicon-based solar cells.
How do dye-sensitized solar cells work? The basic gist is this: The solar cell is coated with a dye that absorbs sunlight and creates electrons. Proteins capture the electrons; transfer them to the semiconductor, which completes the circuit.
The advantages of dye-sensitized solar cells
Dye-sensitized solar cells can be made of low-cost materials, which is what could potentially make them a better solution than solar cells on the market today.
They are also better at absorbing light at wider angles and have higher efficiency rates in indoor lighting, due to the fact that fluorescent and diffuse light also is absorbed. Lastly, expected lifetime is longer than other thin-film solar cells.
What is so special about Perera’s dye-sensitized solar cells?
Perera’s solar cells are based on a protein called MspA, which is extracted and isolated from the cell walls of Mycobacterium smegmatis (the same bacteria that is causing tuberculosis and other scary diseases).
After chemically purification, the MspA protein has many uses than to serve as a material in solar cells. Due to its surface chemistry, it has been researched to improve on current processes that are involved in DNA sequencing. It is one of two biological nanopores that currently are under investigation for this.
More environmentally friendly
Dye-sensitized solar cells have been researched for more than two decades now, but efficiency rates higher than 11% have not been reached. Perera says her research probably won’t increase efficiency rates, but rather make the technology greener.
Dye-sensitized solar cells composed of mycobacteria are greener alternatives to silicon-based solar cells. The research has also lead to a dye less toxic than other dies used in dye-sensitized solar cells. Solar cells made this way should also be significantly cheaper to dispose and recycle as opposed to other types.
Ayomi Perera hopes that the research will make legislators of Kanas city increase funding for similar projects, after all, Kansas is a sunny state and the potential here is huge.
Source: Kansas State University