Is Spinach the key to solar’s future?



Researchers from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee have discovered what Popeye knew all along–spinach gives you more energy. Although more traditionally associated with giving an extra energy boost to the cartoon character, when combined with silicon researchers found a much stronger electrical current is produced.

The process involved using the photosynthetic protein in spinach, the vital ingredient that converts light into energy to make plants grow, and combining it with silicon, which is already used in solar cells, in a way that produced an electrical current 2.5 times more powerful that existing solar cells.

Although similar trials have been conducted previously, the researchers at Vanderbilt believe they have developed a system that prevents a decline in performance and extends the life of the cell.

To build their super solar PV cell, the protein was extracted from spinach into an aqueous solution and poured onto the surface of a specially treated wafer of silicon. The water in the solution was evaporated by placing the cell in a vacum chamber, this left behind the protein as a tiny, thin, film on the wafer.

When placed in the light the protein absorbs the energy contained within the light (photons). These free electrons huddle together and create an area of positive charge, which is the electrical current produced by solar cells.

The team of biomolecular engineers and chemists  from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee have applied for a patent for their process after reporting their findings to the journal Advanced Materials. Professor David Cliffel, Lead Researcher on the project, said the discovery could potentially be put into production within the next three years.

The spinach treated cells produce 2.5 times more energy than traditional cells. Researchers believe that the protein has a great energy potential and are working to improve the system further.

© 2012 Solar Choice Pty Ltd

Rebecca Boyle