Solar Energy from Plant Protein Structure
Nanoscience is quite fascinated with the process of photosynthesis. They want to duplicate this process exhibited by green plants and utilize the solar power for energy use. Till now power generating solar panels are not in a position to replace the fossil fuels. They produce little amount of energy and quite expensive also. Generation of solar energy also depends on geographical locations. Deserts are more suitable locations for solar power than areas experiencing temperate climate. But we can have a new source of solar power that also delivered a power packed performance for us when it is on our dinner/lunch plate i.e. pea power.
We know they taste good but scientists are trying to utilize them for generation of solar energy. This project is undertaken by researchers from Tel Aviv University’s Department of Biochemistry. They find out that minute crystals present in peas could be utilized as battery chargers. They are not ruling out the possibility of pea crystals as the core of efficient artificial solar cells.
Nanoscience is basically the science of small particles of materials. In modern times it is one of the hot pursuits in research frontiers. Mother Nature, till date is the greatest nanoscientist. She has no problem in positioning the molecules with sub-nanometer precision. It’s the usual routine job for nature. This kind of positioning is also vital to the operation of biological complexes such as photosynthesis. Prof. Nelson’s research paid attention to this aspect.
Green plants convert solar energy into chemical energy through various reactions. Tel Aviv’s scientists are concentrating on the Photosystem I (PSI) complex, because this particular phase is responsible for the conversion of light energy into other types of energy, such as chemical energy. The Tel Aviv researchers discovered that this complex is packed into crystals found in peas. These crystals could potentially turn light energy into electricity.
Prof. Nathan Nelson of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Biochemistry tells us, “Looking at the most complicated membrane structure found in a plant, we deciphered a complex membrane protein structure which is the core of our new proposed model for developing ‘green’ energy.”
Plants have evolved a perfect mechanism to convert solar energy into chemical energy. They have developed a very sophisticated “nano-machinery” which works in association with sunlight and provides a perfect quantum yield of 100%. This whole process is termed as Photosystem I (PSI) complex. The same is being isolated from pea leaves and crystallized. Prof. Nelson put this crystal structure to high resolution. This way he was able to describe its intricate structure in detail.
The Tel Aviv University team carried out various experiments and placed the crystals on gold covered plates. They were able to generate a charge of 10 volts. That’s not enough to establish a power house but it can be utilized for low-energy power switches. Prof. Nelson explains about his amazement and joy, “One can imagine our amazement and joy when, upon illumination of those crystals placed on gold covered plates, we were able to generate a voltage of 10 volts. This won’t solve our world’s energy problem, but this could be assembled in power switches for low-power solar needs, for example.”
Prof. Nelson explains, “My research aims to come close to achieving the energy production that plants can obtain when converting sun to sugars in their green leaves.”
Prof. Nelson states further, “If we could come even close to how plants are manufacturing their sugar energy, we’d have a breakthrough. It’s therefore important to solve the structure of this nano-machine to understand its function.”