Researchers Tap Virus to Improve Solar Cell Efficiency By 32%


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Researchers are usually figuring out how to get rid of viruses, but in an interesting twist they have figured out how to harness viruses to boost the efficiency of solar cells. Scientists at MIT have figured out how to make a genetically engineered virus help build carbon nanotubes that give solar power a push. MIT explains that carbon nanotubes have been found to enhance how efficiently electrons are collected from a solar cell's surface. However, there are problems in making carbon nanotubes work correctly since nanotubes can clump together and reduce effectiveness.

However, a genetically engineered version of virus M13 can control how nanotubes are arranged on a surface and therefore ensure they don't glob together and gum up the works of gathering energy from sunlight. Each virus is able to bond to five to 10 nanotubes and hold them in place, and this structure allows for a more efficient road for electrons to travel along.

By using the virus, the team was able to ramp up efficiency from 8% to 10.6%, or a 32% improvement.

MIT reports, "This dramatic improvement takes place even though the viruses and the nanotubes make up only 0.1 percent by weight of the finished cell... With further work, the researchers think they can ramp up the efficiency even further."

The researchers also think that the new process can become commercially viable, noting that it adds just one more simple step to the current manufacturing process and so it could become a plug-n-play technology improvement in the solar industry.

This isn't the first time we have heard about viruses being utilized to improve electronics. Last year, researchers announced that they are looking in to how a Tobacco virus can help boost battery efficiency. Indeed, bot viruses and bacteria hold clues to better, more efficient technologies.

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Tags: Alternative Energy | Concepts & Prototypes | Solar Power | Technology