Photovoltaic vs Photosynthetic

Photovoltaic vs. Photosynthetic Solar Energy

As of yet few quantum physicists have actually written philosophical papers on the political implications of photochemical solar cells. While they remain in the laboratories, predictions have been set that within three to five years, they will become a more aesthetic approach to solar energy generation with the same, if not better conductivity levels as current photovoltaics. Basically, its high-tech competition.

So what is a photosynthetic solar energy cell, how does it compete with the photovoltaic market and what kind of implications would that have on our society? Good question, but not so easy to answer. Photosynthesis is every outdoor school kids most important discovery, and as early as the sixth grade people get the idea about converting sunlight into sugars, but how can chlorophyll be synthesized and conductive to electrons, thereby creating a usable current? By using photosynthetic proteins to convert light into electricity.

Academic research in the US on this subject has been top secret for years including such names as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, and the University of Tennessee. By taking spinach leaf molecules or photosynthetic bacteria to convert light into energy, a whole new kind of solar panel is now available to architects. Even better, it works and as Dr. Frankenstein once screamed in scientific delight, Its alive!

One of the most important researchers on this concept outside the U.S. wrote a paper called Supramolecular Photochemistry and Solar Cells which pretty much details all the legwork done so far on the subatomic level with microbiology and photochemistry. The world renown Chemistry professor and researcher at the University in São Paulo, Brazil Dr. Neyde Yukie Murakami Iha shows how some of her teams most outstanding studies have been fairing over the last decade or so, and keep on going non-stop.

Although Neyde herself would not be interested in commercializing this stuff to all of us, some of her peers in Japan have already taken the commercial risks. The so called PV-TV used as a skyscraper skin developed in 2003 for commercial use by the Tokyo-based MSK Corporation together with Kaneka Chemicals and Taiyo Industries for architecture, is a transparent solar panel that works, is cost effective, pays for itself and just may create a revolution in the European market sometime soon.

These panels are 980mm long and 950 mm wide, with a standard depth of 10-13mm thick. Both flexible or strengthened-glass options are available making it a transparent skin of virtually any pain-glass color you might be looking for with certain scientific restrictions thus far. Which colors exactly are less efficient still remains unclear, but the ones sold so far can act as a three-in-one glazing element, solar energy panel and video display screen.

Taiyo Industries has already been putting this skyscraper skin on buildings in Japan and in London since July of 2004. While the languagebarrier may be a little restrictive, the product itself offers enough advantages for the buyer that it becomes more than worth it. At $45 a square foot, the skin actually pays for itself after some years of usage, and helps get zero energy buildings farther along in the realm of practical, no-nonsense business.

For urbanism and architecture students, this is a thing to be looking into very soon. Not only is this skin economical and multi-functional, but creativity is one of its biggest advantages. Want a skylight that will hold up to heavy rain, hail or even snow and still serve as a generator in the sunlight and impede ultraviolet rays? Sound good? What about a skin that can be both, a window and a outdoor bulletin board system at night, while still holding out the intense summer heat, illuminating the offices, hallways, meeting rooms and still acting as a mirror during the day?

So why worry about conventional roofing, when a photosynthetic solar panel can offer natural lighting, keep heat out in the summer and warm air in during the colder months while still acting as a natural form of skylight? Talk about sustainability! Just one thing is to be said, Its alive!


Posted in Solar Times by admin on April 13, 2006.

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