We’ve heard about alternative energy produced from corn, switchgrass, and watermelons… but cow brains? Researchers at Stanford are exploring the idea that clathrin, a protein found in cow brains, can form nanostructured inorganic material for use in solar cells and batteries. Unlike synthetic materials used in energy tech that require nasty chemicals and high temperatures to form specific shapes, clathrin can be tweaked at room temperature and pressure.
Clathrin isn’t unique to cow brains — The protein is also present in every cell of the human body, acting as a facilitator for cell transport. Clathrin-based structures can form a number of shapes, including cubes, spheres, barrels and tetrahedra, that can provide a sort of skeleton for other atoms and molecules. When materials like gold and titanium dioxide are added to clathrin skeletons, they can form catalysts and electrodes that can in turn be used in batteries and solar cells.
The researchers explain: “Titania, for example, has photocatalytic properties and can absorb sunlight to split water into oxygen and hydrogen. By creating these inorganic materials using clathrin, scientists can tailor their structure toward converting chemicals and sunlight into energy. ” Next up: checking out the potential applications of platinum and cobalt oxide when combined with clathrin. If all goes well, next-generation solar panels may very well contain traces of cow brain.