Researchers Tap Virus to Improve Solar Cell Efficiency By 32%

Researchers are usually figuring out how to get rid of viruses, but in an interesting twist they have figured out how to harness viruses to boost the efficiency of solar cells. Scientists at MIT have figured out how to make a genetically engineered virus help build carbon nanotubes that give solar power a push.

MIT explains that carbon nanotubes have been found to enhance how efficiently electrons are collected from a solar cell’s surface. However, there are problems in making carbon nanotubes work correctly since nanotubes can clump together and reduce effectiveness.

However, a genetically engineered version of virus M13 can control how nanotubes are arranged on a surface and therefore ensure they don’t glob together and gum up the works of gathering energy from sunlight. Each virus is able to bond to five to 10 nanotubes and hold them in place, and this structure allows for a more efficient road for electrons to travel along.

By using the virus, the team was able to ramp up efficiency from 8% to 10.6%, or a 32% improvement.

MIT reports, “This dramatic improvement takes place even though the viruses and the nanotubes make up only 0.1 percent by weight of the finished cell… With further work, the researchers think they can ramp up the efficiency even further.”

The researchers also think that the new process can become commercially viable, noting that it adds just one more simple step to the current manufacturing process and so it could become a plug-n-play technology improvement in the solar industry.

This isn’t the first time we have heard about viruses being utilized to improve electronics. Last year, researchers announced that they are looking in to how a Tobacco virus can help boost battery efficiency. Indeed, bot viruses and bacteria hold clues to better, more efficient technologies.

This post was originally published by Treehugger.

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Photo from ecstaticist via flickr
Written by Jaymi Heimbuch, a Treehugger blogger


gerlinde p.
gerlinde p6 years ago


KrassiAWAY B.
Krasimira B6 years ago

Noted with interest.

Scott M.
Its wonderful e6 years ago

Great news, within 50 years the progress will be amazing..

Harsha Vardhana R
Harsha Vardhana6 years ago

All that is in nature, is useful, only if we know how to use it!

Penny C.
penny C6 years ago

Not sure about this.....

Gloop it
Gloop it6 years ago


Camila K.
Kamila A6 years ago

I really appreciate the caution most of the reviewers are stressing here....perhaps we are finally "growing up" as a group to use our wisdom not just our anxiety, to further our interests.
With more focused research, humanity can figure ANYTHING out when corporate interests get out of our way!

Kelsey C.
Kelsey S6 years ago


Hilary A.
Hilary S6 years ago

i feel apprehensive about the use of any life form - and a virus is such a one - for our advancement. in my observation there is usually a hidden price, otherwise known as a side effect, which can prove so unmanageable it can eclipse original benefits by a loooong way.

Jeff Markus
Jeff Markus6 years ago

OK, OK, OK let's take a deep breath here folks. Isn't this rushing in stuff kinda the reason we're in this mess???
The search for an instantanious solution offers the potential for a slew of unforseen consequences...
Good science makes good sense, the extended testing and research to assure the safety may actually allow an even better solution to be discovered. The human race needs to be exceptionally cautious 'cause we're the only ones that can effect the world with what we 'invent' as intensly as we do.
If we test and maintain good discipline with these GMO's this might be one option to help the 'cause' but it is possible that a better technology is out there and stopping at this virus ain't doing anybody any good.
The Chicagoan