A group of scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have developed a way to produce artificial photovoltaic and photochemical cells by infecting the tobacco plants with a genetically engineered virus. Unlike traditional methods of making solar cells, this new technique is more environmentally friendly (because the cells are biodegradable) and cheap.
“Over billions of years, evolution has established exactly the right distances to collect light from the sun and to do so with unparalleled efficiency,” said Matt Francis, the leader of the group. “We are just trying to mimic these finely tuned systems.”
Researchers claim they have genetically programmed a virus that infects tobacco plants to produce artificial chromosphores which convert sunlight into high powered electrons that can be harvested.
One of the advantages of using live organisms to produce synthetic solar cells is that no environmentally toxic chemicals are required to make biologically derived solar cells and the farmers could go back to work by growing solar cells in tobacco plants.
Unlike the silicon, this manufacturing process of solar cells is not quite efficient, but it could act as a transportable, cheap and biodegradable power source, having the chance to be used in various disposable and temporary gadgets.