Home » Carbon nanotubes boost efficiency in “nanobionic” bacterial solar cells

Carbon nanotubes boost efficiency in “nanobionic” bacterial solar cells

by Coffee Table Science

Carbon nanotubes may be introduced into photosynthetic bacteria by researchers at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), considerably increasing their electrical output. When they divide, they even transmit these nanotubes to their progeny through a process the research team refers to as “inherited nanobionics.”

The main renewable energy source is solar energy, which can be harnessed with solar cells, however making them has a negative impact on the environment. As with many other things, we may learn from nature on how to make our own technology better, and in this case, sunlight-dependent photosynthetic bacteria could be used in microbial fuel cells.



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 In the latest work, the EPFL team gave these bacteria a boost by adding carbon nanotubes, which are extremely small rolled-up sheets of the notoriously conductive substance graphene. With the same amount of sunlight, the nanotube-loaded bugs may generate up to 15 times more electricity than their non-edited counterparts.

What are the difficulties the team experienced?

The EPFL team claims that although getting the nanotubes into the bacteria is difficult, they were able to do so by coating their surface with positively charged proteins. They are drawn to the negatively charged bacterial outer membranes as a result. It was successful in two quite distinct bacterial species, Synechocystis and Nostoc.

The most exciting aspect, however, is that when bacteria divide, the carbon nanotubes, and consequently the improved electrical properties, are passed onto the next cells. However, this decreases with time when more and more cells are exposed to the carbon nanotube concentration, but it’s still an intriguing proof-of-concept for what the researchers refer to as inherited nanobionics.

Image credits: new atlas 

What is the significance of this study?

According to Professor Ardemis Boghossian, an author of the study, “it’s like having an artificial limb that offers you talents above what you can attain naturally.” Now consider that your offspring will be able to inherit its assets from you once they are born. We not only gave the bacteria this artificial behaviour, but it is also passed on to their offspring. It is the first instance of hereditary nanobionics that we have seen.

According to the team, this method for incorporating carbon nanotubes could be valuable for boosting the efficiency in nanobionic bacterial cells and monitoring the inner workings of bacteria or for tracing ancestry between generations in a population in addition to creating novel photovoltaic gadgets.

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