MIT Researchers Find a Way To Make Solar Panels from Grass Clippings

by , 02/19/12


Solar power, solar energy, biophotovoltaics, biophotovoltaic, Andreas Mershin, MIT, photovoltaic, clean energy, renewable energy, green tech, technology

What if generating solar energy at home required little more than mixing some grass clippings with inexpensive chemicals? That’s exactly what MIT researcher Andreas Mershin has found to be the case. The scientist says creating a solar cell could be as easy as mixing any green organic material (grass clippings, agricultural waste) with a bag of custom chemicals and painting the mixture on a roof. Once the efficiency of Mershin’s system is improved, this type of solar technology could make cheap energy available in rural places and developing countries where people don’t have access to affordable energy. Read on to see a video of Mershin’s findings.

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Here at Inhabitat, we’ve been following biophotovoltaics — devices that generate energy from photosynthesis — and although the possibilities are limitless, most of the existing technology is very expensive and a long way from reaching the market. In a study published in Scientific Reports, Mershin and his fellow researchers have come up with a process to “hijack” the PS-I molecules that are responsible for photosynthesis. As Mershin explains in this video, in order to get these molecules to work for us, we must extract the protein that’s at the center of photosynthesis and stabilize it so that it continues to live and operate in a solar panel.

Mershin and his team developed an intricate nanostructure of titanium dioxide supported by nanowires, which carry a flow of current. The system is able to convert just 0.1 percent of sun energy to electricity — over four orders of magnitude better than previous biophotovoltaic systems — but that percentage will need to be improved upon further before the technology can be useful. The breakthrough “carries the promise of inexpensive and environmentally friendly solar power,” according to the study, and Mershin hopes that within a few years someone in a remote village will be able to take some grass clippings, mix them with some chemicals, and paint them on the roof to produce power.

+ Andreas Mershin’s Study in Scientific Reports

via CNET

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  1. jjhammeken March 12, 2012 at 12:19 am

    I’m trying to recreate one as a school project but now I realize how complex it is, the designer peptide and the ZnO nanowires are impossible to recreate in my school lab (a college in Mexico City) with a very complete lab. Any suggestions on how to recreate them?

  2. b.r.mckay February 23, 2012 at 7:43 am

    I’m pretty sure he was being facetious about governments not supporting this. That would not be a problem if it really works, and I sure hope it does. It would be wonderful to see the neanderthal minions eating crow. Incremental awakenings in the hinterlands. The stuff dreams are made of.

  3. stevemayland February 20, 2012 at 2:26 am

    I love to hear searchers always improving the greatest resource of our system.
    In no time ( less than 20 years) I believe things will change incredibly ).

    Concerning governments support, what I notice since a couple of years, is that people will soon be able to do many things without them.
    Internet is connecting people without having to go through governments, and that will change everything.
    We will change the way we do things, because we can talk to each other ( sure you will tell me about who’s controlling satellites) and improve our condition.
    We can and will develop things that will make us all more independent. No matter what government.

  4. gaurachand February 14, 2012 at 9:40 am

    Present solar technlology is very expensive.Other than that it is inaccessible to village people but this simple grass cripping technology will be very beneficial for village poor people.

  5. chinolulu21 February 4, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    Why would you want a gov. behind it? Aren’t they involved in too much already?

  6. Hyncharas February 3, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    It sounds like a really cool idea, and I congratulate Mershin and his team for the discovery… however, no government in the world will ever get behind it.

    “Why?”, I hear you ask. Because in the real world (as opposed to an ideal one), any technology including power systems that doesn’t possess some form of regulation – whether it be a monthly tax, to transferring the remaining collected energy to a national power company – would be considered by many countries as going independent. Even for the most innocent of intentions, politicians couldn’t have the lemmings of the general public not being under their heel 24/7, as it’s an opportunity some would abuse and thus all have to operate under laws.

    As I said, it’s a good idea, but you will never see a fully independent regime for renewables, as government would have no control over what they were used for.

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