Research into one of the oldest forms of life known on the planet – purple bacteria – is offering some interesting insight into the development of future generations of solar panels. Found throughout the planet and commonly on many lake and sea beds, purple bacteria is a fundamental building block of many ecosystems that effectively convert solar rays into usable energy to suit their own needs. Further, their ability to adapt from generation to generation depending on the environment they are found in has raised many interests in their possible applications in a number of fields.
Operating by capturing solar energy in a photosynthetic membrane and then channeling the captured photons of light into what are known as “reaction chambers”, the bacteria work with a series of “stop and go” valves that allows them to effectively control the amount of energy they take in and utilize on a regular basis. To do this once a reaction chamber receives a captured photon from the photosynthetic membrane it effectively “shuts off” its receptors and does not allow any additional photons to be processed until it has successfully converted the initial photon into usable energy. Once this process has been completed the receptive center then opens up to allow an additional photon to enter and be converted into energy once more.
While the process seems simple enough the primary point of interest lies in how the bacteria respond over multiple generations. Depending on the specific intensity of light that they are receiving on a regular basis they continuously adapt to their surroundings – creating additional reaction chambers or reducing them as necessary. Even more interesting, however, is that the bacteria do not respond in a standard process that might be assumed of “more light means more receptors” – instead they carefully balance out the overall need of the specific cell over time in order to maximize energy processing while minimizing the risk posed to the cell from too much energy being processed.
For the photovoltaic industry this brings about a number of points of interest, primarily lying in possible new designs for effectively capturing and converting solar energy when developing higher performing solar panels. While in the past the primary focus has lied for the most part in simply generating a purer, higher yield solar cell the biological concept utilized in purple bacteria itself is hypothesized to potentially offer new avenues of development in terms of purely mechanical processes.
Beyond simply looking at strictly mechanical applications, however, purple bacteria is also being seen as a possible candidate for a fusion of biological with mechanical energy collection. Due to the fact that it is highly adaptable and regularly adjusts to its environments many researchers feel that purple bacteria may in fact have the potential to be developed into specific strains that could be incorporated into solar collection panels or dishes in order to allow for more efficient energy transfers. Given that it has been observed that the quantum processes for energy transfers in biological organisms can yield up 99% energy transfer rates this means that, should it be successfully cultured, a substantial increase over purely mechanical collection processes could be realized in the not too distant future.
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