Cheaper solar panels could be made from grass

Within a few years, people in remote villages in the developing world may be able to make their own solar panels, at low cost, using otherwise worthless agricultural waste as their raw material.

MIT researcher Andreas Mershin has been building on previous work by his colleague Shuguang Zhang, who built solar cells from a complex of molecules known as photosystem-I (PS-I), the tiny structures within plant cells that carry out photosynthesis. Zhang and colleagues derived the PS-I from plants, stabilized it chemically and formed a layer on a glass substrate that could — like a conventional photovoltaic cell — produce an electric current when exposed to light.

Now the process has been simplified to the point that virtually any lab could replicate it, allowing researchers around the world to start exploring the process and making further improvements. The new system’s efficiency is 10,000 times greater than in the previous version — although in converting just 0.1 percent of sunlight’s energy to electricity, it still needs to improve another tenfold or so to become useful, he says.

Read more at Massachusetts Institute of Technology