It seems that spinach packs more of a punch than even Popeye imagined. What green plants have been doing for millions of years — photosynthesis — using sunlight to create glucose from carbon dioxide and water, essentially making their own energy, has spurred the imaginations of scientists for years.
Recently, Kane Jennings, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Vanderbilt, his colleague David Cliffel, and a group of researchers have found a way to produce electrical current by combining spinach’s photosynthetic protein, photosystem 1 (PS1), which converts light into electrochemical energy, with silicon.
The team placed PS1 on a silicon electrode to power a solar cell. Jennings told National Public Radio reporter Bruce Gellerman that it generates 2,500 times more power than when the protein is put on a metal electrode and six times more power than the silicon electrode alone. “What we’re looking at here is more of a wet-based solar cell. More like kind of a solar battery,” Jennings said.
Although the cells are not yet ready for a photovoltaic rooftop array, Jennings predicts that can happen in the next three years. But don’t worry about your spinach salad — they’re checking out the PS1 protein in the invasive species kudzu next.
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