by Jerry James Stone, San Francisco, CA
Researchers at UC Berkeley have hacked tobacco plants to grow synthetic photovoltaic cells which can then be extracted and sprayed onto any substrate to create solar cells.
How? The scientists tweaked a few genes within the tobacco mosaic virus to build tiny structures called chromophores. Once the plant is sprayed with the virus, the new chromophores will group into tightly coiled formations. Chromophores are structures that turn light into high powered electrons.
Each formation is hundreds of nanometers long and about three nanometers away from its neighbor. That spacing is very important. Just one atom closer would impede any electrical current. Harvesting the electrons would be nearly impossible.
"Over billions of years, evolution has established exactly the right distances between chromophore to allow them to collect and use light from the sun with unparalleled efficiency," said Matt Francis. "We are trying to mimic these finely tuned systems using the tobacco mosaic virus."... read the full story at TreeHugger.com