Berkeley, California has played host to a number of nation-shaping movements in recent decades, from civil rights protests, to tree sittings, to building takeovers. But is it possible that years from now, people will be looking at this nonconforming East Bay city as the epicenter of modern solar power?
A number of scientists at the University of California at Berkeley think so, as their work could one day allow farmers to include solar power among their field of crops.
The team has found a way to get tobacco plants to grow synthetic photovoltaic (PV) and photochemical cells. The cells could then be removed, dissolved in a solution and sprayed on glass or plastic to create a limitless potential of biodegradable, disposable solar panels.
The project is still in the works. But the idea is that, when it comes to gathering sunlight, plants know best. By infecting them with a genetically modified virus, scientists are able to induce the creation of artificial chromophores, which convert the sun's rays into electrons. The same may be said of silicon-based solar panels.
The chromophores grow on top of one another, arranging themselves in minuscule rods a few hundred nanometers long. At the right size and orientation, the rods could be used to generate a steady flow of electrons.
So far the project has been environmentally safe, but the UC Berkeley scientists have not yet demonstrated the cells turning light into valuable electricity. It could be years before the experiment becomes a source of solar power.