Planting a brighter future

An MIT researcher, with the help of a research team from multiple institutions and think tanks, has developed a new type of self-developing solar panel. These new self-developing solar cells are produced through a new chemical system that closely mimics the photosynthesis process in plants.

Andreas Mershin, one of the paper’s co-founders, envisions this new type of solar cell that could one day be used in countries where power is not readily available. These cells would be used to power flashlights and cellphones in these countries, providing a ready and stable source of electricity for those who normally would be without power.

Grass, the energy of the future. Graphic by Caitlin Lewis.

The new system of solar cell development makes use of some custom-designed chemicals that, when added to any green plants or surface, set and make a solid solar panel. These new types of solar cells are 10,000% more efficient than previous plant-based solar cells. Even though these cells are major improvements on previous plant-type solar cells, they are still not nearly efficient enough to be used in the field; they only capture 0.1% of the sunlight.

What is impressive about this process is that previous solar panels, which produced plant-based solar panels prior, required much more in the way of lab equipment. These other plant-based solar cells also required expensive substrata to provide a flexible surface for the cells to be applied to. Now all one needs is a bag of the proper chemicals and some plant material. The process of mixing the chemicals allows for the new cells to make use of the molecules in plants that are responsible for creating energy in photosynthesis with much less hassle and expense to the user.

While these new solar cells are an impressive leap in technology, they do have a number of serious issues before they are used in the field. The cells have issues with durability along with their low output of energy. These cells can be applied to just about any surface, which allows them to have an increased amount of usability. While these cells may not be the solar panels of the future, they are a big step forward in creating cheap, affordable solar cells made from renewable products. Most solar cells are made using by-products from petroleum. One day soon, grass clippings may be part of the way we power the future.