Researchers learn from solar-power champions

The undisputed solar-power champions are plants—the green kind, not the photovoltaic kind like the Nellis Solar Power Plant. Writing in UGA Today, James Hataway notes that after billions of years of evolution, plants operate at nearly 100% quantum efficiency.

Hataway reports that researchers at the University of Georgia are learning from plants and are developing a new approach for generating electricity.

He quotes Ramaraja Ramasamy, assistant professor in the UGA College of Engineering, as saying, “Clean energy is the need of the century. This approach may one day transform our ability to generate cleaner power from sunlight using plant-based systems.”

The approach involves separating out plant structures called thylakoids, modifying them, and immobilizing them on carbon nanotubes, which capture electrons emitted by the thylakoids when exposed to light.

Ramasamy suggests that in the near-term, the technology could serve to harvest energy to power remote sensors. It's unlikely to help much in meeting the electricity needs of cloud server farms.

Ramasamy and Jessica Calkins, a UGA graduate student, and Yogeswaran Umasankar, a postdoctoral research associate, coauthored a paper describing the process in the Journal of Energy and Environmental Science. See Hataway's article in UGA Today for more information.

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