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"Power Plants" -- The Discovery Files


The Discovery Files
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The Discovery Files podcast is available through iTunes or you can add the RSS feed to your podcast receiver. You can also access the series via AudioNow® by calling 405-875-0058 on any telephone.

A biochemist from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and a team of researchers have developed a system that taps into plants' photosynthetic processes to produce efficient and inexpensive energy.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Grow Your Own (Sound effect: arcing sound)--Electricity.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Green energy almost doesn't get any greener than this--a new system for generating current--not from a power plant--but with the power of plants.

(Sound effect: pond sounds) Specifically, blue-green algae. If you saw this stuff in the pool, you'd skim it off. But by tapping into the photosynthetic structures of these little power players, a team of researchers at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, MIT, and in Switzerland, has developed a cheap, simple way to make generating electricity more efficient.

One of the key components of photosynthesis is photosystem 1 (or PS1). The scientists extracted the PS1 from the algae, and bioengineered it to interact with a semiconductor. They engineered zinc oxide tubes to attract the PS1 particles and become coated with them. The two materials mingle on the metal-oxide surface. When exposed to sunlight, the PS1 gets excited and produces electrons that "jump" to the semiconductor. And voila: electric current. The method could make green electricity dramatically cheaper and easier. It has a way to go to be perfected, but because of the low cost and simplicity, labs around the world can embrace the challenge.

Who knows--maybe someday I can charge my phone with my chia pet.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's national science foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at nsf.gov or on our podcast.

 
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