Solar Power With Overcast Skies

Kirsten Long

Solar panels are a great way to generate electricity without using natural resources but when there are overcast skies it may be difficult to absorb enough sunlight. Fortunately, researchers from the University of British Columbia have found a solution.

The researchers have discovered a way to build a bacteria-powered solar cell in a cheap and sustainable way, as described in a Science Daily news article. The cell was able to generate currents stronger than other solar power devices while also working just as well in dim lighting. This product would work well in regions like BC and northern Europe where they often experience overcast skies. The biogenic solar cells are made up of living organisms and may be as efficient as synthetic cells.

In the past, biogenic solar cells were built by removing the natural dye used by the bacteria for photosynthesis, however; this approach is very complex and expensive to perform, as well it uses toxic solvents that cause the dye to degrade. To combat this problem, the UBC researches left the dye in bacteria and engineered E. coli to produce lycopene, which is a dye that is effective at using light for energy conversion. The bacteria were coated with a mineral that acts as a semiconductor and then applied to a glass surface.

This solution can save about one-tenth of the cost of the dye production and can be manufactured sustainably. Now the researchers are trying to find a process that will prevent the bacteria from being killed so they can produce the dye endlessly.