Email Print Share

"Power Plants" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
Audio Play Audio
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 641-552-8180 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 or on our podcast.

General Restrictions:
Images and other media in the National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery are available for use in print and electronic material by NSF employees, members of the media, university staff, teachers and the general public. All media in the gallery are intended for personal, educational and nonprofit/non-commercial use only.

Images credited to the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, are in the public domain. The images were created by employees of the United States Government as part of their official duties or prepared by contractors as "works for hire" for NSF. You may freely use NSF-credited images and, at your discretion, credit NSF with a "Courtesy: National Science Foundation" notation. Additional information about general usage can be found in Conditions.

MP3 icon
NSF podcasts are in mp3 format for easy download to desktop and laptops, as well as mobile devices capable of playing them.