The Loh Down On Science

Popeye Power

It’s strong to the finish, 'cause it’s made of spinach!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Meet PS1: A protein involved in photosynthesis. It helps convert sunlight into energy. For forty years, scientists have known you can take it out of a plant like spinach, and it will keep working really efficiently.

No wonder engineers want to put PS1 in solar panels! But PS1 added to solar cells breaks down fast, and the amount of power produced? Far below commercial standards.

Enter David Cliffel and colleagues from Vanderbilt University. They developed a new spinach solar cell. One with punch.

The key? Once the spinach proteins are in solution, they're poured onto a silicon wafer enhanced with positively charged atoms.

In conventional metal cells, PS1 leads to both negative and positive electrical currents, which more or less cancel each other out. But on the enhanced silicon, all the electrons flow in one direction, creating current levels a thousand times higher, and leading to a small increase in voltage.

Now that's what I call green energy.  Literally green.


The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC Pasadena, California. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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