Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

'Power plants': How to harvest electricity directly from plants

Date:
May 9, 2013
Source:
University of Georgia
Summary:
The sun provides the most abundant source of energy on the planet. However, only a tiny fraction of the solar radiation on Earth is converted into useful energy.

Ramaraja Ramasamy, right, and Yogeswaran Umasankar work together to capture energy created during photosynthesis. Ramasamy is an assistant professor in the UGA College of Engineering and Umasankar is postdoctoral research associate working in his lab.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Georgia

The sun provides the most abundant source of energy on the planet. However, only a tiny fraction of the solar radiation on Earth is converted into useful energy.

To help solve this problem, researchers at the University of Georgia looked to nature for inspiration, and they are now developing a new technology that makes it possible to use plants to generate electricity.

"Clean energy is the need of the century," said Ramaraja Ramasamy, assistant professor in the UGA College of Engineering and the corresponding author of a paper describing the process in the Journal of Energy and Environmental Science. "This approach may one day transform our ability to generate cleaner power from sunlight using plant-based systems."

Plants are the undisputed champions of solar power. After billions of years of evolution, most of them operate at nearly 100 percent quantum efficiency, meaning that for every photon of sunlight a plant captures, it produces an equal number of electrons. Converting even a fraction of this into electricity would improve upon the efficiency seen with solar panels, which generally operate at efficiency levels between 12 and 17 percent.

During photosynthesis, plants use sunlight to split water atoms into hydrogen and oxygen, which produces electrons. These newly freed electrons go on to help create sugars that plants use much like food to support growth and reproduction.

"We have developed a way to interrupt photosynthesis so that we can capture the electrons before the plant uses them to make these sugars," said Ramasamy, who is also a member of UGA's Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center.

Ramasamy's technology involves separating out structures in the plant cell called thylakoids, which are responsible for capturing and storing energy from sunlight. Researchers manipulate the proteins contained in the thylakoids, interrupting the pathway along which electrons flow.

These modified thylakoids are then immobilized on a specially designed backing of carbon nanotubes, cylindrical structures that are nearly 50,000 times finer than a human hair. The nanotubes act as an electrical conductor, capturing the electrons from the plant material and sending them along a wire.

In small-scale experiments, this approach resulted in electrical current levels that are two orders of magnitude larger than those previously reported in similar systems.

Ramasamy cautions that much more work must be done before this technology reaches commercialization, but he and his collaborators are already working to improve the stability and output of their device.

"In the near term, this technology might best be used for remote sensors or other portable electronic equipment that requires less power to run," he said. "If we are able to leverage technologies like genetic engineering to enhance stability of the plant photosynthetic machineries, I'm very hopeful that this technology will be competitive to traditional solar panels in the future."

"We have discovered something very promising here, and it is certainly worth exploring further," he said. "The electrical output we see now is modest, but only about 30 years ago, hydrogen fuel cells were in their infancy, and now they can power cars, buses and even buildings."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Georgia. The original article was written by James Hataway. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Jessica O. Calkins, Yogeswaran Umasankar, Hugh O'Neill, Ramaraja P. Ramasamy. High photo-electrochemical activity of thylakoid–carbon nanotube composites for photosynthetic energy conversion. Energy & Environmental Science, 2013; DOI: 10.1039/C3EE40634B

Cite This Page:

University of Georgia. "'Power plants': How to harvest electricity directly from plants." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 May 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130509104358.htm>.
University of Georgia. (2013, May 9). 'Power plants': How to harvest electricity directly from plants. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130509104358.htm
University of Georgia. "'Power plants': How to harvest electricity directly from plants." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130509104358.htm (accessed April 18, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Friday, April 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism

Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism

AP (Apr. 18, 2014) Operators of recreational businesses on western reservoirs worry that ongoing drought concerns will keep boaters and other visitors from flocking to the popular summer attractions. (April 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
First Ever 'Female Penis' Discovered In Animal Kingdom

First Ever 'Female Penis' Discovered In Animal Kingdom

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) Not only are these newly discovered bugs' sex organs reversed, but they also mate for up to 70 hours. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ark. Man Finds 6-Carat Diamond At State Park

Ark. Man Finds 6-Carat Diamond At State Park

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) An Arkansas man has found a nearly 6.2-carat diamond, which he dubbed "The Limitless Diamond," at the Crater of Diamonds State Park. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest

Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest

AP (Apr. 18, 2014) At least six Nepalese guides are dead after an avalanche swept the slopes of Mount Everest along a route used to climb the world's highest peak. (April 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins