Going green never tasted so good. Engineering students from Vanderbilt University have designed a type of solar panel using a protein from spinach, instead of costly silicon wafers. Photosystem I (PSI), the protein in plant choloroplasts which converts light to energy, was extracted from spinach. Then the team placed it in many cells to make a bio-photovoltaic medium. Two panels were created made up of 24 cells, and each cell measured 75 x 38 mm.
“The team absolutely excelled in clearly presenting their engineering innovations to the public. From the first minutes of the competition, they generated a buzz that rapidly spread across vast P3 exhibition space. We were one of only two teams (out of 44) to win three awards,” said Kane Jennings, professor of chemical
engineering at Vanderbilt. (Source: Vanderbilt.edu)
The students won a Marketplace Innovation Award from Paladin Capital, and the Student Choice Award. They also won a Phase II $90,000 grant at the 8th Annual National Sustainable Design Expo. Eric Dilbone, Phil Ingram, Trevan Locke, Paul McDonald and Jason Ogg comprised the senior design team. The next phases of their work will be carried out by new seniors next year, and will likely include creating the process and hardware for producing functioning solar cells using the biohybrid design in larger numbers.
An MIT scientist also used Photosystem I proteins to make solar cells, but his plant material came from grass clippings and dead leaves. His biohybrid solar cells produced very little energy, but he hoped that by collaborating with other researchers they might be able to increase the output tenfold.
Image Credit: Victor M. Vicente Selvas / Wiki Commons