Bio-Solar Panels: Bacteria Powered Sustainable Energy
We humans put a lot of effort into fearing and trying to kill bacteria: antibiotics, soaps, hand-sanitizers. In the United States over 2 million people will become infected with an antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year– due to overuse and adaptation. In your body, you can avoid a bad bacterial infection in the first place by taking “good” bacteria in the form of a probiotic. But bacteria isn’t only good for immune health and pooping. Scientists at New York’s Binghamton University are developing bio-solar panels powered by bacteria.
Cyanobacteria is a blue-green bacteria commonly found in waterways; and it can potentially generate usable energy 24 hours a day. During daylight hours the bio-solar panels generate energy through photosynthesis. At night they generate energy through respiration. If you’re thinking “bacteria breath doesn’t seem like it would generate much energy,” you would be right. A bio-solar panel with 60 cells only generates 0.00003736 watts while a traditional solar panel with the same number of cells generates about 285 watts. So these panels aren’t about to revolutionize how we power our infrastructure.
They may not generate much energy, but the bio-solar panels developed by the team at Binghamton University are the first of their kind. Unlike traditional solar panels, the bio-solar panels are stackable which makes them potentially more practical if you’re working with a small surface. Which of course you would be if you only need a fraction of a watt of power.
The project’s developer, Professor Seokheun “Sean” Choi, says in order to fully utilize the cyanobacteria’s power, a lot more research is needed regarding the bacteria’s metabolic processes. I guess studying the digestive systems of bacteria isn’t a career path many scientists have chosen to take– yet. So if you have a degree in biomolecular engineering and are interested in how bacteria breathe and poop maybe you should hit the Binghamton team up.
The bio-solar panels developed by Choi’s team may not generate much power but they certainly aren’t useless. “Once a functional bio-solar panel becomes available, it could become a permanent power source for supplying long-term power for small, wireless telemetry systems as well as wireless sensors used at remote sites where frequent battery replacement is impractical,” said Choi.
You may not ever see bio-solar panels covering homes or schools, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them on the market in a few years in the form of bio-chargers for small devices like cell phones. So how will they produce a functioning bio-solar panel with more power output? They don’t know yet; but my guess is bacteria on steroids.