ScienceDaily (Apr. 9, 2009) — Engineers at Oregon State University have discovered a way to use an ancient life form to create one of the newest technologies for solar energy, in systems that may be surprisingly simple to build compared to existing silicon-based solar cells…

The new system is based on living diatoms, which are extremely small, single-celled algae, which already have shells with the nanostructure that is needed. They are allowed to settle on a transparent conductive glass surface, and then the living organic material is removed, leaving behind the tiny skeletons of the diatoms to form a template.

A biological agent is then used to precipitate soluble titanium into very tiny “nanoparticles” of titanium dioxide, creating a thin film that acts as the semiconductor for the dye-sensitized solar cell device…

“Conventional thin-film, photo-synthesizing dyes also take photons from sunlight and transfer it to titanium dioxide, creating electricity,” Rorrer said. “But in this system the photons bounce around more inside the pores of the diatom shell, making it more efficient.”

The physics of this process, Rorrer said, are not fully understood – but it clearly works…. Nature is the engineer, not high tech tools. This is providing a more efficient, less costly way to produce some of the most advanced materials in the world.

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