Research team reports »breakthrough on the way to the biological solar cell«

In a publication in the journal Nature, a research team from the University of Cambridge, UK, the University of Rostock and the Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany, has described how the high energy losses that occur in photosynthesis in nature can be reduced in an artificial process. The results »enable completely new concepts for the design of biological solar cells,« said Marc Nowaczyk, co-author of the study and head of the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Rostock. The efficiency could »at least theoretically« be significantly increased.
The technical imitation of photosynthesis for electricity generation is considered promising above all because the biological catalysts used do not contain any rare raw materials. So far, however, it has not been possible to demonstrate sufficient efficiencies.
In natural photosynthesis, depending on the organism, only about one percent of the original light energy is chemically bound at the end of the process. The research team’s study has now shown that these high losses are not inevitable when photosynthesis is used for energy conversion because »certain synthetic mediators – small chemical mediator molecules – can grab electrons from the photosystems at a much earlier stage than previously thought.«
There is »still a long way to go« with further research before a possible practical application is possible. In principle, however, the study »challenges the previous model of how photosynthesis fundamentally works« and therefore has »the potential to revolutionize the development of solar cells based on biological catalysts.«

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