Science & Skepticism

Bacteria Solar Panels are THOUSANDS of Times Less Efficient

by Andrew Follett

Solar panels of the future could literally be made of bacteria, but they’d be almost 5,000 times less efficient than regular panels, according to research published Monday by scientists from Binghamton University.

The research created nine scalable and stackable bacteria-derived solar panels from cyanobacteria that continuously generated electricity from photosynthesis and respiration.

The bacteria panels created, however, were 5,000 times less efficient than regular solar panels and only generated an average of 0.00003726 watts of electricity. To put that in perspective, a typical rooftop solar panel generates an average of 200 watts. Commercial solar cell efficiency is already low, and only about 20 percent efficient.

“It is time for breakthroughs that can maximize power-generating capabilities/energy efficiency/sustainability,” Seokheun Choi, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Binghamton and the paper’s co-author, said in a press release. The metabolic pathways of cyanobacteria or algae are only partially understood, and their significantly low power density and low energy efficiency make them unsuitable for practical applications.”

A study published last Wednesday announced that scientists developed a rechargeable battery powered by bacteria.

It is currently impossible to economically store power for times when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. Purchasing enough batteries to provide just three days of storage for an average American household costs about $15,000, and those batteries only last for about five years and are very difficult to recycle.

The bacteria produced solar panel was funded by the University Research Foundation, an organization that receives taxpayer funds.

Solar power in the U.S. gets about $39 billion in subsidies and research assistance annually. In comparison, the government gives roughly $3.4 billion in subsidies for conventional sources and $1.7 billion for nuclear, according to data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Solar power accounted for only 0.4 percent of electricity generated in America in 2014, despite these huge subsidies, according to the EIA.

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