In a first, a team of US researchers has created a bio-solar panel that can generate 5.59 microwatts of energy - a big step in the evolution of bacteria-powered energy to run small devices in remote areas where regular battery replacement is not possible.
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"Once a functional bio-solar panel becomes available, it could become a permanent power source for supplying long-term power for small, wireless telemetry systems as well as wireless sensors used at remote sites where frequent battery replacement is impractical," said study co-author Seokheun "Sean" Choi from Binghamton University.
The researchers connected nine biological-solar (bio-solar) cells in a 3x3 pattern to make a scalable and stackable bio-solar panel.
The panel continuously generated electricity from photosynthesis and respiratory activities of the bacteria in 12-hour day-night cycles over 60 hours.
"This research could also enable crucial understanding of the photosynthetic extracellular electron transfer processes in a smaller group of microorganisms with excellent control over the microenvironment, thereby enabling a versatile platform for fundamental bio-solar cell studies," Choi noted.
A typical "traditional" solar panel on the roof of a residential house, made up of 60 cells in a 6x10 configuration, generates roughly 200 watts of electrical power at a given moment.
The cells from this study, in a similar configuration, would generate about 0.00003726 watts. So it isn't efficient just yet but the findings open the door to future research of the bacteria itself.
"The metabolic pathways of cyanobacteria or algae are only partially understood, and their significantly low power density and low energy efficiency make them unsuitable for practical applications," noted Choi in a paper published in the journal Sensors and Actuators B: Chemical.
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"There is a need for additional basic research to clarify bacterial metabolism and energy production potential for bio-solar applications," he added.