We’re all familiar with photosynthesis, and how important it is to the planet’s ecosystems. And yet, we don’t do much to actually harness the process for our own purposes. Photosynthesis is a natural and efficient way to turn sunlight into energy, and yet we’re still building solar panels en masse instead of taking advantage of that. But, a new technique from researchers at the Stevens Institute of Technology may make it practical to harvest energy from photosynthesis.
This system relies on the electricity created as a byproduct from the photosynthesis of cyanobacterial cells. That’s certainly not a new revelation — it’s been well known for years that this happens. The difficultly has been in harnessing that electricity. Cyanobacterial cells are infamously short-lived, and collecting the electricity they give off during photosynthesis isn’t as simple as sticking wires onto them.
To address that first obstacle, the researchers placed cyanobacterial cultures onto the caps of mushrooms. That extended the life cycle of the cyanobacterial cultures to several days — long enough to do useful work. To harvest the electricity they produce during photosynthesis, they laced the mushroom caps with graphene nanoribbons. The 3D-printed graphene nanoribbons attach to the outer membranes of the cyanobacterial cells and collect the electricity they produce. In that way, they act as biological batteries. The researchers believe they can also utilize different bacterial species to create natural, self-powered sensors.