Ayomi Perera, a doctoral student in chemistry, Sri Lanka, is working to improve dye-sensitized solar cells. The cells are a solar technology that use a dye to help generate energy from sunlight. By creating a less toxic dye and combining it with a bacteria, Perera’s solar cells are friendlier to the environment and living organisms — making an alternative energy solution to fossil fuels even greener.
To make the solar cells greener and more efficient, Perera begins with the bacteria Mycobacterium smegmatis. A mycrobacterium is a type of pathogen that can cause diseases such as tuberculosis. Perera is using a species that is completely harmless and can be found in soil and cornflakes. It also produces the protein MspA, which can be used for numerous applications once it has been chemically purified.
After purification, Perera combines the protein with a synthesized dye that is less toxic than traditional dyes. The protein-dye mixture is coated onto individual solar cells — which form large solar panels when assembled — and is then tested with artificial sunlight to measure energy output.
Although the new dye-sensitized solar cells currently do not improve on the technology’s ability to convert sunlight into electrical current, the technology is the first of its kind and could help low-cost solar cells become a more viable option in the alternative energy field.
Read more about Perera’s work at http://www.k-state.edu/media/newsreleases/apr12/greenersolarccells40912.html.