Researchers are working on the process of generating electricity directly from the plants.
Energy & Environmental Science
Plants are the best users of the solar energy. Some of the plants can convert even a minute fraction of sunlight, falling on them, into energy.
“Clean energy is the need of the century,” said Ramaraja Ramasamy, assistant professor in the UGA College of Engineering and the corresponding author of a paper describing the process in the Journal of Energy and Environmental Science. “This approach may one day transform our ability to generate cleaner power from sunlight using plant-based systems.”
Plants use sunlight to convert water atoms into hydrogen and oxygen resulting in the production of electrons that are used to create sugar used by plants as food. This process is known as photosynthesis.
“We have developed a way to interrupt photosynthesis so that we can capture the electrons before the plant uses them to make these sugars,” said Ramasamy, who is also a member of UGA’s Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center.
Scientists separated thylakoids, structures in the plant cells that capture and store energy from sunlight. They manipulated the proteins in the structure and interrupt the electron flow pathway. These modified structures were then placed on the carbon nanotubes, which act as electrical conductors, holding the electrons from the plant material and sending them along a wire. Researchers reported a good level of electric current levels in small-scale experiments.
“In the near term, this technology might best be used for remote sensors or other portable electronic equipment that requires less power to run,” he said. “If we are able to leverage technologies like genetic engineering to enhance stability of the plant photosynthetic machineries, I’m very hopeful that this technology will be competitive to traditional solar panels in the future.”
“We have discovered something very promising here, and it is certainly worth exploring further,” he said. “The electrical output we see now is modest, but only about 30 years ago, hydrogen fuel cells were in their infancy, and now they can power cars, buses and even buildings.”
Calkins, J., Umasankar, Y., O’Neill, H., & Ramasamy, R. (2013). High photo-electrochemical activity of thylakoid–carbon nanotube composites for photosynthetic energy conversion Energy & Environmental Science DOI: 10.1039/C3EE40634B