Greener solar cells are now possible thanks to research done by Ayomi Perera, a doctoral student in chemistry, who graduated from Kansas State University. While other researchers focus on the efficiency of solar cells, Perera’s research is making technology greener by improving dye-sensitized cells. Perera combines less toxic dye with a bacteria in order to create cells that are more sustainable to living organisms and the environment.
Perera starts by using a special species of the bacteria Mycobacterium smegmatis, that can be found in cornflakes and in the soil. It produces the protein MspA, which can be applied to various applications after it has been purified. Once purified, the protein is combined with a dye that is less toxic than traditional dyes. The mixture is then applied to individual solar cells and tested.
The technology is the first of its type, even though the process doesn’t improve the efficiency of the solar cells. “This type of research where you have a biodegradable or environmentally friendly component inside a solar cell has not been done before, and the research is still in its early stages right now,” Perera said. “But we have noticed that it’s working and that means that the protein is not decomposed in the light and electric generating conditions. Because of that we believe that we’ve actually made the first protein-incorporated solar cell.” As oil fields run dry, these new cells are a sustainable alternative for the future.
A video about Perera’s research is available at http://youtu.be/70-RhGEL38I.