Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) produced biofilms from bacteria, which can conduct electricity and emit light. Inspired by bones, mixed matrices that can be observed in nature, the team combined living cells with materials such as nanoparticles and quantum dots to produce the living material that one day could lead to low cost manufacturing of solar cells and self-healing materials.
Although solar energy production is currently the fastest growing sector of the energy industry, the price of the raw materials used in the making of photovoltaic cells is still quite high, preventing solar from becoming the energy leader. This is also why research and technological advances that address the issue and propose means to handle it, always make it in the top most popular news. Such study comes from the team at MIT, led by Timothy Lu, an Assistant Professor of electrical and biological engineering. The guys were able to make the first step towards developing hybrid materials from living cells and non-living substances, that can function just as well as all those extremely expensive inorganic materials used now.
The ultimate aim of the team was to integrate natural biological systems with non-living compounds using inducible genetic circuits. For their experiment, they used E.coli bacteria and interfaced them with gold nanoparticles and quantum dots. They observed that the produced biofilm that can conduct electricity and emit various colors of light. The study is a huge step forward towards the development of hybrid materials.
For the energy field, such biofilms are of an essence, mainly because they can be grown rather than having to be built in huge facilities using expensive materials. Because their cost would be much lower than any of the materials used now, they already hold a huge potential. The applications of such substances could be many- solar cells, batteries, coatings, even biofuel production. The study is still theoretical, however experts in the field see the biofilms as the invention that could completely transform the process of making solar panels in the future.
Image (c) MIT