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Proteins That Can Take the Heat

Ancient proteins may offer clues on how to engineer proteins that can withstand the high temperatures required in industrial applications, according to new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Built From the Bottom Up, Nanoribbons Pave the Way to 'on-Off' States for Graphene

Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and North Carolina State University report in the journal Nature Communications that they are the first to grow graphene nanoribbons without a metal substrate.

LLNL Reinventing Metal 3D Printing with Direct Metal Writing Process

Metal 3D printing has enormous potential to revolutionize modern manufacturing. However, the most popular metal printing processes, which use lasers to fuse together fine metal powder, have their limitations. Parts produced using Selective Laser Melting (SLM) and other powder-based metal techniques often end up with gaps or defects caused by a variety of factors. To overcome those drawbacks, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers, along with collaborators at Worchester Polytechnic Institute, are taking a wholly new approach to metal 3D printing with a process they're calling Direct Metal Writing, in which semisolid metal is directly extruded from a nozzle, like ketchup from a bottle.

The Economic Case for Wind and Solar Energy in Africa

To meet skyrocketing demand for electricity, African countries may have to triple their energy output by 2030. While hydropower and fossil fuel power plants are favored approaches in some quarters, a new assessment by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has found that wind and solar can be economically and environmentally competitive options and can contribute significantly to the rising demand.

Chemists ID Catalytic 'Key' for Converting CO2 to Methanol

Results from experiments and computational modeling studies that definitively identify the "active site" of a catalyst commonly used for making methanol from CO2 will guide the design of improved catalysts for transforming this pollutant to useful chemicals.

Cryo-Electron Microscopy Achieves Unprecedented Resolution Using New Computational Methods

Cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM)--which enables the visualization of viruses, proteins, and other biological structures at the molecular level--is a critical tool used to advance biochemical knowledge. Now Berkeley Lab researchers have extended cryo-EM's impact further by developing a new computational algorithm instrumental in constructing a 3-D atomic-scale model of bacteriophage P22 for the first time.

New Study Maps Space Dust in 3-D

A new Berkeley Lab-led study provides detailed 3-D views of space dust in the Milky Way, which could help us understand the properties of this dust and how it affects views of distant objects.

Single-Angle Ptychography Allows 3D Imaging of Stressed Materials

Scientists have used a new X-ray diffraction technique called Bragg single-angle ptychography to get a clear picture of how planes of atoms shift and squeeze under stress.

New Feedback System Could Allow Greater Control Over Fusion Plasma

A physicist has created a new system that will let scientists control the energy and rotation of plasma in real time in a doughnut-shaped machine known as a tokamak.

Towards Super-Efficient, Ultra-Thin Silicon Solar Cells

Researchers from Ames Laboratory used supercomputers at NERSC to evaluate a novel approach for creating more energy-efficient ultra-thin crystalline silicon solar cells by optimizing nanophotonic light trapping.


Argonne Scientist and Nobel Laureate Alexei Abrikosov Dies at 88

Alexei Abrikosov, an acclaimed physicist at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory who received the 2003 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on superconducting materials, died Wednesday, March 29. He was 88.

Jefferson Lab Accomplishes Critical Milestones Toward Completion of 12 GeV Upgrade

The Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility (CEBAF) at the U.S. Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility has achieved two major commissioning milestones and is now entering the final stretch of work to conclude its first major upgrade. Recently, the CEBAF accelerator delivered electron beams into two of its experimental halls, Halls B and C, at energies not possible before the upgrade for commissioning of the experimental equipment currently in each hall. Data were recorded in each hall, which were then confirmed to be of sufficient quality to allow for particle identification, a primary indicator of good detector operation.

Valerie Taylor Named Argonne National Laboratory's Mathematics and Computer Science Division Director

Computer scientist Valerie Taylor has been appointed as the next director of the Mathematics and Computer Science division at Argonne, effective July 3, 2017.

Three SLAC Employees Awarded Lab's Highest Honor

At a March 7 ceremony, three employees of the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory were awarded the lab's highest honor ­- the SLAC Director's Award.

Dan Sinars Represents Sandia in First Energy Leadership Class

Dan Sinars, a senior manager in Sandia National Laboratories' pulsed power center, which built and operates the Z facility, is the sole representative from a nuclear weapons lab in a new Department of Energy leadership program that recently visited Sandia.

ORNL, HTS International Corporation to Collaborate on Manufacturing Research

HTS International Corporation and the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory have signed an agreement to explore potential collaborations in advanced manufacturing research.

Jefferson Lab Director Honored with Energy Secretary Award

Hugh Montgomery, director of the Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab), was awarded The Secretary's Distinguished Service Award by the Secretary of Energy earlier this year.

New Projects to Make Geothermal Energy More Economically Attractive

Geothermal energy, a clean, renewable source of energy produced by the heat of the earth, provides about 6 percent of California's total power. That number could be much higher if associated costs were lower. Now scientists at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have launched two California Energy Commission-funded projects aimed at making geothermal energy more cost-effective to deploy and operate.

Southern Research Project Advances Novel CO2 Utilization Strategy

The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy has awarded Southern Research nearly $800,000 for a project that targets a more cost-efficient and environmentally friendly method of producing some of the most important chemicals used in manufacturing.

Harker School Wins 2017 SLAC Regional Science Bowl Competition

After losing its first match of the day to the defending champions, The Harker School's team won 10 consecutive rounds to claim victory in the annual SLAC Regional DOE Science Bowl on Saturday, Feb. 11.


High-Energy Electrons Probe Ultrafast Atomic Motion

A new technique synchronized high-energy electrons with an ultrafast laser pulse to probe how vibrational states of atoms change in time.

Rare Earth Recycling

A new energy-efficient separation of rare earth elements could provide a new domestic source of critical materials.

Modeling the "Flicker" of Gluons in Subatomic Smashups

A new model identifies a high degree of fluctuations in the glue-like particles that bind quarks within protons as essential to explaining proton structure.

Rare Nickel Atom Has "Doubly Magic" Structure

Supercomputing calculations confirm that rare nickel-78 has unusual structure, offering insights into supernovas.

Microbial Activity in the Subsurface Contributes to Greenhouse Gas Fluxes

Natural carbon dioxide production from deep subsurface soils contributes significantly to emissions, even in a semiarid floodplain.

Stretching a Metal Into an Insulator

Straining a thin film controllably allows tuning of the materials' magnetic, electronic, and catalytic properties, essential for new energy and electronic devices.

How Moisture Affects the Way Soil Microbes Breathe

Study models soil-pore features that hold or release carbon dioxide.

ARM Data Is for the Birds

Scientists use LIDAR and radar data to study bird migration patterns, thanks to the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Climate Research Facility.

The Future of Coastal Flooding

Better storm surge prediction capabilities could help reduce the impacts of extreme weather events, such as hurricanes.

Estimating Global Energy Use for Water-Related Processes

Scientists find that water-related energy consumption is increasing across the globe, with pronounced differences across regions and sectors.


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Spinach Power Gets a Big Boost

Article ID: 593143

Released: 2012-08-30 12:45:00

Source Newsroom: Vanderbilt University

  • Credit: Amrutur Anilkumar, Vanderbilt University

    A biohybrid solar cell built by Vanderbilt students using the photosynthetic protein from spinach based on a previous design.

  • Credit: Julie Turner, Vanderbilt University

    Vanderbilt researchers have combined the photosynthetic protein from spinach with silicon in a way that produces substantially more current than previous biohybrid solar cells.

David F. Salisbury

615-343-6803

david.salisbury@vanderbilt.edu

An interdisciplinary team of researchers at Vanderbilt University have developed a way to combine the photosynthetic protein that converts light into electrochemical energy in spinach with silicon, the material used in solar cells, in a fashion that produces substantially more electrical current than has been reported by previous “biohybrid” solar cells.

The research was reported online on Sep. 4 in the journal Advanced Materials and Vanderbilt has applied for a patent on the combination.

“This combination produces current levels almost 1,000 times higher than we were able to achieve by depositing the protein on various types of metals. It also produces a modest increase in voltage,” said David Cliffel, associate professor of chemistry, who collaborated on the project with Kane Jennings, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. “If we can continue on our current trajectory of increasing voltage and current levels, we could reach the range of mature solar conversion technologies in three years.”

The researchers’ next step is to build a functioning PS1-silicon solar cell using this new design. Jennings has anEnvironmental Protection Agency award that will allow a group of undergraduate engineering students to build the prototype. The students won the award at the National Sustainable Design Expo in April based on a solar panel that they had created using a two-year old design. With the new design, Jennings estimates that a two-foot panel could put out at least 100 milliamps at one volt – enough to power a number of different types of small electrical devices.

More than 40 years ago, scientists discovered that one of the proteins involved in photosynthesis, called Photosystem 1 (PS1), continued to function when it was extracted from plants like spinach. Then they determined PS1 converts sunlight into electrical energy with nearly 100 percent efficiency, compared to conversion efficiencies of less than 40 percent achieved by manmade devices. This prompted various research groups around the world to begin trying to use PS1 to create more efficient solar cells.

Another potential advantage of these biohybrid cells is that they can be made from cheap and readily available materials, unlike many microelectronic devices that require rare and expensive materials like platinum or indium. Most plants use the same photosynthetic proteins as spinach. In fact, in another research project Jennings is working on a method for extracting PS1 from kudzu.

Since the initial discovery, progress has been slow but steady. Researchers have developed ways to extract PS1 efficiently from leaves. They have demonstrated that it can be made into cells that produce electrical current when exposed to sunlight. However, the amount of power that these biohybrid cells can produce per square inch has been substantially below that of commercial photovoltaic cells.

Another problem has been longevity. The performance of some early test cells deteriorated after only a few weeks. In 2010, however, the Vanderbilt team kept a PS1 cell working for nine months with no deterioration in performance.

“Nature knows how to do this extremely well. In evergreen trees, for example, PS1 lasts for years,” said Cliffel. “We just have to figure out how to do it ourselves.”

Secret is "doping" silicon

The Vanderbilt researchers report that their PS1/silicon combination produces nearly a milliamp (850 microamps) of current per square centimeter at 0.3 volts. That is nearly two and a half times more current than the best level reported previously from a biohybrid cell.

The reason this combo works so well is because the electrical properties of the silicon substrate have been tailored to fit those of the PS1 molecule. This is done by implanting electrically charge atoms in the silicon to alter its electrical properties: a process called “doping.” In this case, the protein worked extremely well with silicon doped with positive charges and worked poorly with negatively doped silicon.

To make the device, the researchers extracted PS1 from spinach into an aqueous solution and poured the mixture on the surface of a p-doped silicon wafer. Then they put the wafer in a vacuum chamber in order to evaporate the water away leaving a film of protein. They found that the optimum thickness was about one micron, about 100 PS1 molecules thick.

When a PS1 protein exposed to light, it absorbs the energy in the photons and uses it to free electrons and transport them to one side of the protein. That creates regions of positive charge, called holes, which move to the opposite side of the protein.

In a leaf, all the PS1 proteins are aligned. But in the protein layer on the device, individual proteins are oriented randomly. Previous modeling work indicated that this was a major problem. When the proteins are deposited on a metallic substrate, those that are oriented in one direction provide electrons that the metal collects while those that are oriented in the opposite direction pull electrons out of the metal in order to fill the holes that they produce. As a result, they produce both positive and negative currents that cancel each other out to leave a very small net current flow.

The p-doped silicon eliminates this problem because it allows electrons to flow into PS1 but will not accept them from protein. In this manner, electrons flow through the circuit in a common direction.

“This isn’t as good as protein alignment, but it is much better than what we had before,” said Jennings.

Graduate students Gabriel LeBlanc, Gongping Chen and Evan Gizzie contributed to the study.

The research was supported by National Science Foundation grant EMR 0907619, NSF EPSCoR grant EPS 1004083 and by the Scialog Program of the Research Corporation for Scientific Advancement.