The sun provides the most abundant source of energy on the planet. However, only a tiny fraction of the solar radiation on Earth is converted into useful energy. To help solve this problem, researchers at the University of Georgia looked to nature for inspiration, and they are now developing a new technology that makes it possible to use plants to generate electricity. "Clean energy is the need of the century," said Ramaraja Ramasamy, assistant professor in the UGA College of Engineering. This approach may one day transform our ability to generate cleaner power from sunlight using plant-based systems. Plants are the undisputed champions of solar power. After billions of years of evolution, most of them operate at nearly 100 percent quantum efficiency, meaning that for every photon of sunlight a plant captures, it produces an equal number of electrons. Converting even a fraction of this into electricity would improve upon the efficiency seen with solar panels, which generally operate at efficiency levels between 12 and 17 percent. During photosynthesis, plants use sunlight to split water atoms into hydrogen and oxygen, which produces electrons. These newly freed electrons go on to help create sugars that plants use much like food to support growth and reproduction.
"We have developed a way to interrupt photosynthesis so that we can capture the electrons before the plant uses them to make these sugars," said Ramasamy.
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