Drawing inspiration from nature to stabilize bio-inspired solar energy harvesting materials

Nature inspires entirely new solar energy harvesting architectures. Researchers at the City College of New York (CCNY), taking inspiration from nature, can demonstrate a synthetic strategy to stabilize bio-inspired solar energy harvesting materials. The study, co-authored by Dr. Kara Ng, Prof. Dorthe M. Eisele, and Prof. Ilona Kretzschmar from CCNY, and Prof. Seogjoo Jang from Queens College, is published in the journal Nature Chemistry.

Image: Top image adapted from Journal of Physical Chemical Letters. Bottom image, Kara Ng, Nature Chemistry 2020

Plants, algae, and other photosynthetic organisms are found in all corners of the world—they harvest sunlight and produce their own food by a process called photosynthesis. Photosynthesis in nature involves a two-component system: a light-harvesting antenna composed of fragile material, known as supra-molecular assemblies, embedded with a protein or lipid scaffold.

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Until now, scientists were not clear on the role of the scaffold, but recent research suggests that these sophisticated protein environments stabilize the fragile supra-molecular assemblies. This finding could be a significant breakthrough for future solar energy conversion technologies.

According to Dr. Kara Ng, though they can’t replicate the complexity of the protein scaffolds found in photosynthetic organisms, they were able to adapt the basic concept of a protective scaffold to stabilize the artificial light-harvesting antenna.

So far, adopting design principles from nature to large scale photovoltaic applications have been unsuccessful. However, the study’s objective is not to improve the current solar cell design but to learn from nature’s masterpieces to inspire entirely new solar energy harvesting architectures.

The researchers found that Silane (SiH4) molecules can self-assemble to form an interlocking, stabilizing scaffold around an artificial supra-molecular light-harvesting antenna. Their work is a proof of concept that a cage-like scaffold stabilizes the supra-molecular assemblies against extreme temperature fluctuations without disrupting their light-harvesting properties.

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Source: Phys.org

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