Published to LA Confidential, Summer 2018
Researchers (Sarvesh Kumar Srivastava, Przemyslaw Piwek, Sonal R. Ayakar, Arman Bonakdarpour, David P. Wilkinson, and Vikramaditya G. Yadav) from the University of British Columbia (UBC) have created bacteria-powered solar cells (i.e. biogenic cells) that work efficiently in dim and bright light. Meanwhile, prior attempts from other research through the extraction of light-sensitive dye from genetically modified bacteria proved to be costly and complex.
The UBC researchers used E. coli genetically engineered to produce an abundance of lycopene (a molecule that gives tomatoes their orange/red tint), which is a sufficient natural dye and is excellent at collecting sunlight. The team coated the E.coli in a mineral that can be used as a semiconductor and applied the bacteria/mineral blend to a glass surface to generate their biogenic solar cell. Professor Vikramaditya Yadav, the project leader, said they recorded the highest current density for a biogenic solar cell. The research has been published in the most recent edition of the journal Small.
Although this innovative technology shows promise, there are still glitches to be worked out. Unfortunately, it seems that bacteria does not survive the process. The key involves finding a process that does not kill the bacteria, so they can produce dye indefinitely. If the glitches in the technology can be fixed cloudy days may allow us to shine a bit brighter with solar power.