High Plains Irrigation, Trego County, KS


Making solar cells greener

Project PI: Judy Wu, Department of Physics, University of Kansas

The first protein-based solar cells have been developed in research funded by Kansas NSF EPSCoR.
Solar energy is an attractive alternative for electrical power generation, especially for cooling and heating buildings. The sun’s energy is virtually unlimited, and by relying more on solar energy, humans will depend less on energy sources that are limited and that may also create harmful emissions that contribute to climate change.
The protein used by the Kansas scientists is MspA, a bacterial protein that is inexpensive and grows easily in sunlight (in algae, for example). The benefit of this strategy is that the protein can be grown near to where it will be used, rather than manufactured and shipped from afar. Therefore this process is truly “green.”
Finding ways to harness solar energy by using inexpensive materials, such as MspA, is a key solution to the widespread adoption and utilization of solar energy.
Stefan Bossmann, professor of chemistry at Kansas State University, is collaborating with Francis D’Souza, professor of analytical and supramolecular chemistry at Wichita State University, on the MspA project.
The MspA-based solar cell currently has a solar conversion yield of 1 percent, which the scientists plan to soon increase to 5 percent and, eventually, to 10 percent. The industry standard for solar cells is between 5 and 10 percent.
When mixed with other components, MspA assists in collecting (harvesting) solar energy much like the cholorophyll pigment that occurs in plants functions in photosynthesis. Ultimately the light is converted to electrons and electricity, resulting in a solar cell.
Two post-doctoral students and a graduate student in the Bossmann lab Two post-doctoral students and a graduate student in the Bossmann lab, looking at an MspA gel, are (from left) Dr. Thilani N. Samarakoon, Dr. Tej B. Shrestha and Ayomi Perera.


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