Andreas Mershin, a researcher at MIT, believes he has found a way to generate solar energy by way of solar panels created from agricultural waste such as cut grass and dead tree leaves.
If you paid attention in high school, you may recall that all plants are technically solar cells already–through the process of photosynthesis, plants convert sunlight into energy. Well, Mershin discovered a process to extract the photosynthesizing molecules, photosystem I, from plants.
The goal of Mershin’s project, he explains, is to create a low cost and user-friendly way to harvest solar energy in developing countries. Indeed, Mershin’s system would be low cost–all you would have to do is mix some green plants, such as cut grass, with custom-designed chemicals. From there, you would simply “paint” the mixture on your solar panel, and there you have it–solar energy courtesy of photosynthesis.
As promising as that all may sound, the report admits that the project is a ways off from being finished. As it stands, Mershin’s solar panel isn’t quite efficient enough to be of much use for anything greater than, say, powering a single LED light.
At the moment, even with the efficiency-boosting nanoforest, Mershin’s solar panel only has an efficiency of 0.1%. To be of any use — to power more than a single LED light from an entire house covered in these cheap solar panels — an efficiency of 1 or 2% is required. With such a low barrier to entry, though, Mershin hopes that scientists the world over can now work on boosting the efficiency.