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Pt 10337

Self-assembling photovoltaic technology can keep repairing itself @ KurzweilAI

MIT scientists have created a novel set of self-assembling molecules that can turn sunlight into electricity; the molecules can be repeatedly broken down and then reassembled quickly, just by adding or removing an additional solution.

In an attempt to imitate the  process of photosynthesis, Michael Strano, the Charles and Hilda Roddey Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering, and his team, supported by grants from the MIT Energy Initiative, the Eni Solar Frontiers Center at MIT and the Department of Energy, produced synthetic molecules called phospholipids that form disks; these disks provide structural support for other molecules that actually respond to light, in structures called reaction centers, which release electrons when struck by particles of light.

The disks, carrying the reaction centers, are in a solution where they attach themselves spontaneously to carbon nanotubes — wire-like hollow tubes of carbon atoms that are a few billionths of a meter thick yet stronger than steel and capable of conducting electricity a thousand times better than copper. The nanotubes hold the phospholipid disks in a uniform alignment so that the reaction centers can all be exposed to sunlight at once, and they also act as wires to collect and channel the flow of electrons knocked loose by the reactive molecules.

Phillip Torrone

Editor at large – Make magazine. Creative director – Adafruit Industries, contributing editor – Popular Science. Previously: Founded – Hack-a-Day, how-to editor – Engadget, Director of product development – Fallon Worldwide, Technology Director – Braincraft.


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Comments

  1. RocketGuy says:

    But as a homeowner wanting to go totally solar, I keep getting this neon “when to market?” thing flashing in my head.

    I’ve been following the photosynthesis emulation research for a while, really exciting stuff. The quantum wells were just mind bending to read about (leaves use chlorophyll to do a form of quantum calculation to efficiently use light energy, dang!).

    So I hope this, or something like it, gets practical and scalable, and to market real soon.

    Putting an old satellite dish covered in recycled cd-roms and a Stirling engine at the focal point isn’t gonna go over real well with my urban neighbors, as tempting as the idea is….

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