Electricity can be generated by photosyntetic pigments integrated into an experimental photovoltaic cell

It looks like a strange idea to think, one day, you could light your bedroom by means of a lamp screwed at the top of a fruit juice bottle, but almost every plant biologist can perhaps realize the starting point of a research aiming to get artificial light from plant compounds.

What you need are photosinthetic pigments, those plant compounds involved in the production of ATP, a chemical energy source the living organisms use in biosynthetic reactions to generate their structure, nutritional reserves and other useful substances they need. Each plant pigment acting in a photosynthetic tissue intercepts solar light photons within a specific interval of the visible spectrum.

The step we lack to light our bedroom with common fruit-juice is a futurible technology allowing us to create an artificial photosynthetic system. The leading way people use to get something like a photosynthetic system is the solar-cell technology, we can find as part of any photovoltaic panel.

Rita Giovannetti, professor at the Unicam School of Environmental Sciences, has shown something like an artificial photosystem during a scientific meeting for young people, presented at 'Open-door Unicam', that took place on march 12, 2010, at Camerino (Macerata).

'Open-door Unicam' (link) is the annual outreach event that offers a glance to the Camerino University (Macerata – Italy) scientific research and learning activity.

The fruit-juice powered photovoltaic cell contains a small-fruit extract, or fresh juice arranged on a thin layer of titanium dioxide, placed on a tablet of electrically conductive glass. All this, without adding any solvent, is assembled to produce an original photovoltaic module, taking advantage of plant pigments.

'This research, said Stefano Ferraro, a researcher in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Camerino University, who took part of this project, utilize a concept defined, at Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne (Switzerland), by Prof.Michael Graetzel, whom our research staff collaborates with, thanks to the experience that Leila Alibabaei, a graduate student, got during her training period at Lausanne.

If you want to produce this photo-chemical device, you need to set a thin layer of titanium dioxide nano-particles on the surface of a transparent conducting glass, then the extract of the colourant gets absorbed upon this surface to built an electrode. Once the electrode has been dried and treated with a little amount of the electrolytic solution, is covered with another electrode containing a catalyst. The so-built device allow us to get a measurable amount of energy'.

'The research', adds Ferraro, 'consists of examining natural pigments, of investigating what could be improved in their chemical structure, to make them steadier and of optimizing the absorption processes on the titanium dioxide layer to achieve more efficiency in the energy-power production.

This procedure is necessary, assuming that colourants are subject to oxidative degradation processes and for this reason, little by little, they lose their effectiveness.
Investigating the chemistry (the chemical structure) of these molecules, modifying them a little, they can achieve a greater photo-chemical steadiness, to make them more interesting under the electricity production point-of view'.

Source: UNICAM news, from Camerino University (Macerata – Italy), written by Monica Pinzi - 'staff del Rettore per la Comunicazione' (Dean's communication staff); March 12, 2010

Author: , Apr 30, 2010

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