Is Quantum Engineering the Key for Taking Solar Energy to the Next Level?

Endohedral_fullereneIt is quite possible that understanding biological systems that have evolved from quantum scale photosynthesis may lead to better designs for solar energy and nanoscale devices.

Scientists have determined that biological systems that live in low light conditions develop unique protein structures for photosynthesis that use quantum dynamics to convert 100% of absorbed light into an electrical charge, therefore understanding this process may lead to a greater understanding of solar energy.

During photosynthesis, pigments absorb light photons like chlorophyll. This produces excited molecular states that carry energy as quantum waves through networks of pigments that are held static by pigment-protein complexes (PPCs).

The Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge has been studying light-harvesting proteins in Green Sulpher Bacteria because the bacterium has the ability to survive 2000 meters below the ocean’s surface. Researchers have found a mechanism in PPCs that protects energy from dissipation during travel through the structure by reversing the escaped energy flow and then using molecular vibrations to reenergize it back to exciton level.

Careful study has revealed that PPCs found in nature have energy flows that do not cool at ambient temperature. Researchers have long known that quantum coherence increases the speed of energy flow across molecules, but Cavendish Laboratory’s research expands that understanding of PPCs at a microscopic level.

Achieving a deeper understanding of PPCs may lead to better quantum engineering and better, more intricate design solutions for quantum devices. And all of this has been inspired by nature.

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