For years, scientists have been trying to harness the energy of photosynthesis since plants themselves are the perfect solar technology. Plants use photosynthesis to produce energy at nearly 100% efficiency.
Researchers at the University of Georgia have been able to tap into photosynthesis directly to produce electricity. They discovered a method to interrupt photosynthesis to capture electronics before a plant uses them to make sugars.
Researchers began by separating out thylakoids, structures in the plant cell that typically capture and store energy from sunlight. The researchers then manipulated the proteins within and interrupted the pathway down which the electrons flowed.
The manipulated thylakoids were made stationary by custom-designed carbon nanotubes – a structure that is 50,000 finer than a human hair strand. The nanotubes acted like an electrical conductor and captured electrons from the plant material and sent them along a wire.
The electrical currents delivered were two orders of magnitude greater than those in other systems.
The University of Georgia research team wants to stabilize the process and increase the power output of the device itself in the hopes of one day commercializing it. They hope that ultimately it will be a source of energy for low–power electronics.