Scientists at Moscow’s National Research Nuclear University MEPhI have created a new type of solar panels based on hybrid material consisting of quantum dots (QDs) and photosensitive protein. The creators believe that it has great potential for solar energy and optical computing.
The results of the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute (MEPhI) study were published in Biosensors and Bioelectronics journal.
Archaeal proteins of unicellular organisms, bacteriorhodopsin, can convert the energy of light into the energy of chemical bonds (like chlorophyll in plants). This occurs due to the transfer of a positive charge through the cell membrane. Bacteriorhodopsin acts as a proton pump, which makes it a ready-to-use natural element of the solar panel.
A key difference between bacteriorhodopsin and chlorophyll is its ability to operate without oxygen, allowing the archaea to live in very aggressive environments like the depths of the Dead Sea. This ability has evolutionarily led to their high chemical, thermal, and optical stability. At the same time, by pumping protons, bacteriorhodopsin changes colour many times in a billionth of a second. This is why it is a promising material for creating holographic processing units.
Scientists of NRNU MEPhI have been able to significantly improve the properties of bacteriorhodopsin by binding it to quantum dots (QDs) – semiconductor nanoparticles capable of concentrating light energy on a scale of just a few nanometres and transmitting it to bacteriorhodopsin without emitting light.
According to him, creating conditions for the radiation of high-energy photon, a quantum dot may not radiate it but rather transmit it to bacteriorhodopsin. Thus, the NRNU MEPhI scientists have engineered a cell capable of operating under the irradiation from the near-infrared to the ultraviolet regions of the optical spectrum.
According to the researchers, the obtained results show the potential for creating highly effective photosensitive elements based on biostructures. They may be used, not only to provide solar energy, but also in optical computing.
The authors emphasised the very high quality of the bio-hybrid nanostructured material and the prospect of surpassing the best commercial samples with a possible increase in efficiency by a substantial margin. The next goal of the research team in this direction is to optimise the structure of the photosensitive cell.