Contacts: Professor Chris Howe, Dr. Paolo Bombelli, Ross Dennis & Dr. Beatrix Schlarb-Ridley, Biochemistry and Plant Sciences
Mentor: Michael Katz
The research team, led by Professor Chris Howe, are experts in the detailed biochemistry and molecular evolution of photosynthesis. Starting with the idea of making biological solar panels, which needed the team to find ways of integrating biological organisms into electrochemical systems, the research team has developed a patented bio-photovoltaic system based on algae, and a further system based on moss.
The existing technology has already been packaged into an educational toolkit for schools, which is currently being trialled at Hills Road Sixth Form College, and will soon be made more widely available.
The next stage is to look at a wider range of commercial and practical applications. Bio-photovoltaic cells are different from silicon solar cells in several ways – for example the algae need to be kept in water (which is relatively heavy and bulky), but also the algal material is self-renewing over a long period of time. This means that bio-photovoltaic cells will be useful in a different set of applications than traditional silicon solar cells, and may even open up some radically new approaches to the generation of green electricity.
The challenge for the i-Team is to look at where the biophotovoltaics can best be used on a small-scale. For example the team have already prototyped an algae-powered radio, and are working on a number of other ideas. By developing new ideas, talking to industry representatives, and looking at how this compares with other power sources, the i-Team will help the researchers decide on their next area of focus for the technology.