DOE News
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    The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
    • 2012-04-09 09:50:00
    • Article ID: 587881

    Research Finds Bright Future for Alternative Energy with Greener Solar Cells

    MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Even alternative energy technologies can sometimes be a little greener, according to a Kansas State University graduate student's research.

    Ayomi Perera, a doctoral student in chemistry, Sri Lanka, is working under Stefan Bossmann, professor of chemistry, to improve dye-sensitized solar cells. The cells are a solar technology that use a dye to help generate energy from sunlight. By creating a less toxic dye and combining it with a bacteria, Perera's solar cells are friendlier to the environment and living organisms -- making an alternative energy solution to fossil fuels even greener.

    "Dye-sensitized solar cells, which are solar cells with light-absorbing dye, have been around for more than 20 years, but their highest efficiency has stayed close to 11 percent for some time," Perera said. "So the thought was that rather than trying to increase the efficiency, let's try to make to make the technology more green."

    To make the solar cells greener and more efficient, Perera begins with the bacteria Mycobacterium smegmatis. A mycrobacterium is a type of pathogen that can cause diseases such as tuberculosis. Perera is using a species that is completely harmless and can be found in soil and cornflakes. It also produces the protein MspA, which can be used for numerous applications once it has been chemically purified.

    After purification, Perera combines the protein with a synthesized dye that is less toxic than traditional dyes. The protein-dye mixture is coated onto individual solar cells -- which form large solar panels when assembled -- and is then tested with artificial sunlight to measure energy output.

    "The idea is that the protein acts as a matrix for electron transfer for this dye that absorbs sunlight," Perera said. "We want the protein to be able to capture the electron that the dye gives out and then transfer that electron in one direction, thereby generating an electrical current."

    Although the new dye-sensitized solar cells currently do not improve on the technology's ability to convert sunlight into electrical current, the technology is the first of its kind and could help low-cost solar cells become a more viable option in the alternative energy field.

    "This type of research where you have a biodegradable or environmentally friendly component inside a solar cell has not been done before, and the research is still in its early stages right now," Perera said. "But we have noticed that it's working and that means that the protein is not decomposed in the light and electric generating conditions. Because of that we believe that we've actually made the first protein-incorporated solar cell."

    In February, Perera was one of two Kansas State University graduate students named a winner at the ninth annual Capitol Graduate Research Summit in Topeka. She received a $500 scholarship from KansasBio and will present her poster, "Design of a 'Greener' Solar Cell using Mycobacterial Protein MspA," at the organization's board of director's meeting in May.

    Perera said the summit benefited her research because it gave her the chance to share her work with state legislators in addition to the scientific community. As a result, legislators can understand the work and how it affects Kansas.

    "We know that fossil fuels are going to run out in the very near future," Perera said. "Kansas is getting a reputation as one of the central places in the U.S. for alternative energy research because of the abundance of sunlight and wind. I want to contribute to that and to the betterment of humanity with this research."

    Ayomi Perera, ayomee@k-state.edu

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    Study shows a much cheaper catalyst can generate hydrogen in a commercial device

    Study shows a much cheaper catalyst can generate hydrogen in a commercial device

    SLAC and Stanford researchers have shown for the first time that a cheap catalyst can split water and generate hydrogen gas for hours on end in the harsh environment of a commercial electrolyzer - a step toward large-scale hydrogen production for fuel, fertilizer and industry.

    Unlocking the Biochemical Treasure Chest Within Microbes

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    Argonne and University of Illinois to form hydrogen fuel cell coalition

    Argonne and University of Illinois to form hydrogen fuel cell coalition

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    Science Snapshots - Waste to fuel, moire superlattices, mining cellphones for energy data

    Science Snapshots - Waste to fuel, moire superlattices, mining cellphones for energy data

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    Light My Fire: How to Startup Fusion Devices Every Time

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    Atomic-level Imaging Could Offer Roadmap to Metals with New Properties

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    A team of researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology has developed a new process that could help gain new insights into individual high-entropy alloys and help characterize their properties.


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    Barbara Jacak Receives 2019 Distinguished Scientist Fellow Award

    Barbara Jacak Receives 2019 Distinguished Scientist Fellow Award

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    Versatile physics leader Stefan Gerhardt elected an APS fellow

    Versatile physics leader Stefan Gerhardt elected an APS fellow

    Profile of physicist Stefan Gerhardt who has been elected a 2019 fellow of the American Physical Society.

    PNNL, Sandia, and Georgia Tech Join Forces in AI Effort

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    Scientists from DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, DOE's Sandia National Laboratories, and the Georgia Institute of Technology will collaborate on solutions to some of the most challenging problems in AI today, thanks to $5.5 million in funding from DOE.

    Argonne Receives More Than $1 Million for Quantum Information Science

    Argonne Receives More Than $1 Million for Quantum Information Science

    Argonne scientists receive $1.19 million from DOE for quantum research.

    Department of Energy Announces $6.6 Million to Study Dark Matter

    The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced $6.6 million for four new research awards to develop design concepts for dark matter search experiments.


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    Tracing Interstellar Dust Back to the Solar System's Formation

    Tracing Interstellar Dust Back to the Solar System's Formation

    This study is the first to confirm dust particles pre-dating the formation of our solar system. Further study of these materials will enable a deeper understanding of the processes that formed and have since altered them.

    Investigating Materials that Can Go the Distance in Fusion Reactors

    Investigating Materials that Can Go the Distance in Fusion Reactors

    Future fusion reactors will require materials that can withstand extreme operating conditions, including being bombarded by high-energy neutrons at high temperatures. Scientists recently irradiated titanium diboride (TiB2) in the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) to better understand the effects of fusion neutrons on performance.

    Better 3-D Imaging of Tumors in the Breast with Less Radiation

    Better 3-D Imaging of Tumors in the Breast with Less Radiation

    In breast cancer screening, an imaging technique based on nuclear medicine is currently being used as a successful secondary screening tool alongside mammography to improve the accuracy of the diagnosis. Now, a team is hoping to improve this imaging technique.

    Microbes are Metabolic Specialists

    Microbes are Metabolic Specialists

    Scientists can use genetic information to measure if microbes in the environment can perform specific ecological roles. Researchers recently analyzed the genomes of over 6,000 microbial species.

    Even Hard Materials Have Soft Spots

    Even Hard Materials Have Soft Spots

    The Achilles Heel of "metallic glasses" is that while they are strong materials--even stronger than conventional steels--they are also very brittle. The initial failures tend to be localized and catastrophic. This is due to their random amorphous (versus ordered crystalline) atomic structure. Computer simulations revealed that the structure is not completely random, however, and that there are some regions in the structure that are relatively weak. Defects nucleate more easily in these regions, which can lead to failure. This understanding of the mechanical properties has led to a strategy for making the material stronger and less brittle.

    2-D Atoms Do the Twist

    2-D Atoms Do the Twist

    In the study, scientists demonstrated, for the first time, an intrinsically rotating form of motion for the atoms in a crystal. The observations were on collective excitations of a single molecular layer of tungsten diselenide. Whether the rotation is clockwise or counter-clockwise depends on the wave's propagation direction.

    Location, Location, Location... How charge placement can control a self-assembled structure

    Location, Location, Location... How charge placement can control a self-assembled structure

    For years, scientists have formed polymers using the interaction of charges on molecular chains to determine the shape, geometry, and other properties. Now, a team achieved precise and predictable control of molecular chains by positioning charges. Their method leads to particles with reproducible sizes.

    Cracking in Harsh Environments Needs Stress and Corrosion, But Not at the Same Time

    Cracking in Harsh Environments Needs Stress and Corrosion, But Not at the Same Time

    Alloys (metals combining two or more metallic elements) are typically stronger and less susceptible to cracking than pure metals. Yet when alloys are subjected to stress and a harsh chemical environment, the alloy can fail. The reason? Cracks caused by corrosion.

    Simultaneous Clean and Repair

    Simultaneous Clean and Repair

    Scientists have developed a novel and efficient approach to surface cleaning, materials transport, and repair.

    Where Does Salt in the Amazon Air Come From?

    Where Does Salt in the Amazon Air Come From?

    Tiny particles of sodium salt float in the air over the pristine Amazon basin. Why? The only explanation before now has been that winds blow marine particles hundreds of miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean. An international team of scientists used chemical imaging and atmospheric models to prove otherwise.


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