Articles, Blog

Scientists’ Crazy Plan to Power Solar Panels with E. Coli

January 24, 2020

Solar panels have amazing promise, but serious
limitations. They’re expensive to produce, and it’s
in the name–you need sun to power them. What if there were a way to make solar panels
cheaper AND functional even in places with limited sun? And what if I told you the key to this is…bacteria? I know! Color me surprised–and also green, twice,
because this whole discovery makes use of photosynthesis AND E.coli. Ew. But first, let’s talk about how solar energy
traditionally works. A solar panel is made up of subunits, called
photovoltaic (or PV) cells. For a PV cell to work, it has to generate
an electric current, so each end of the cell is made up either negatively or positively
charged material, usually silicon mixed with either phosphorus or boron
This creates a pre-existing electric field, and when this field gets exposed to photons–aka
sunlight–it knocks some electrons loose from the silicon. We talked about this in a video here, silicon
is a semiconductor that’s used in all kinds of electronic applications. Other components of the solar cell then organize
those free-floating electrons into an electric current that can either be stored or used. But now, new work from a team at the University
of British Columbia came at this system from a totally different angle: solar cells powered
by E. coli! They’ve genetically engineered bacteria
to produce large amounts of a pigment called lycopene. This is a light-harvesting dye that gives
tomatoes their red-orange color, and is ‘photoactive’– meaning that, in its native state inside a
plant, it’s extremely effective at converting light into energy. In this case, the lycopene is what’s being
excited by light to release an electron, instead of a synthetic material like silicon. But the bacteria aren’t a semiconducting
material. For the energy the E. coli have absorbed to
be transferable, the team coated the bacteria in titanium dioxide nanoparticles, or TiO2. Ta-da, these light-absorbing, mineral-coated
bacterial cells are now semiconducting. They’re then attached to a glass surface
doped with oppositely-charged materials, and between the lycopene, nanoparticles, and doped
glass, you’ve got yourself an electric current induced by light! This is a huge leap in bio-hybrid PV technology. Other technologies have used light-harvesting
bio-based dyes in solar cells, but extracted the dye from the bacteria, which is expensive
and difficult. This new method is cheaper and easier because
it keeps the pigment inside the bacterial cells, and it uses a new technique to coat
the bacteria in the nanoparticles. Not only that, but this new experiment also
yielded almost twice the electric output of previous bio-based PV experiments. This gives a whole new meaning to the term
green energy, and if you need me, I’ll be cackling to myself about it for the next 15
years. Ok let’s address this: I thought E. coli
causes disease, right? It’s actually a super common bacteria we
use in research all the time. There are many strains, most of which can
be found in the intestines of humans and other animals, and only some of them or dangerous–most
are really useful and we couldn’t live without them in our systems! We use E. coli in the lab because it’s easy
and inexpensive to grow, and we can hack its genome to get it to produce the protein–or
in this case, pigment–that we want. These new bacteria-powered, or ‘biogenic’
solar cells are looking promising, not only because we’re making gains in how much electric
current they produce, but also because these PV cells, unlike synthetic ones made out of
materials like silicon, can produce just as much energy output in dim light as in bright
light, because the lycopene is so effective at harvesting energy from the sun. Still, there are a few details that need to
be straightened out before these ‘live’ solar cells are ready for market. For one, the bacteria die during this process,
so we’ve got to figure out a way to keep the poor little guys alive, reproducing, and
producing lycopene through the lifetime of the solar cell so you don’t have to always
go in and replace the bacteria. Plus, this prototype currently produces about
25 times less power than a traditional solar cell, so the design of the device needs to
be significantly improved before it’s a feasible option. Regardless, this is an exciting way to reimagine
solar panels that work in areas that don’t get a lot of sun. Plant power + bacteria power=my favorite combo
in the WHOLE world. To learn more about the insane power of bacteria,
check out my previous video on how they may be controlling your mind. Subscribe to Seeker to keep up with all the
energy technologies of the future and speaking of bacteria–E. coli was one of the first
organisms to have its genome sequenced! I’m Maren, thanks for watching.

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  • Reply Camille Cardoze September 12, 2018 at 3:18 am

    energy straight outta my ass

  • Reply Caleb M September 12, 2018 at 3:26 am

    glycosylated TiO2. Worth investigating whether these particles can be expressed through genetic coaxing.

  • Reply JohnBlund94 September 12, 2018 at 3:43 am

    Solarpanels are already really fuctional in places with little sun.They even melt snow in winter, so you don't have to go up on the roof to clean them.
    Maybe there will absorb even more sun and that's really good.But to say that todays slarpanels can't take up sun in places with little sun is wrong.

  • Reply Lue Ciefer September 12, 2018 at 3:53 am

    I had a similar idea a few years ago. Basically get fields of operable glass sheets layered about 1/4 an inch or so apart with several chambers that could be filled with water and nutrients. These would be stored in a rigid frame however large that could be operable on one end. You fill the stacked chambers with nutrient dense water and introduce small samples of genetically modified bacteria that produce ethanol or some other flamable or useful material as a by product. You let them grow (hopefully very fast) and once the chamber is filled simply drain the water and push out the bacteria into a harvester that can filter out the say ethanol and than dry the remaining material to be burned for fuel similar to a wood stove. The key is that you'd get 2 sources of energy through very very little material input and i imagine with a well thought out system, very little work. Most of the actual fuel would be the sun, so it's kind of a solar panel.
    This is cool too… i guess

  • Reply Teddy Bear September 12, 2018 at 3:56 am

    1st thing comes to my mind is maintainace of these kind of solar cells.. Its a living thing gotta keep it alive.. Its delicate.. Got to make sure it has right environment, temperature, humidity, ph+ etc… Got make sure it gets right nutrients too.. I dont see any advantage of it compared to non living silicone cell.. In my opinion its more work and cost more in the long run..

  • Reply Faisal Saeed September 12, 2018 at 4:15 am

    What is the lifetime of a silicone based solar panel?

  • Reply Qazza September 12, 2018 at 4:39 am


  • Reply Evil Robin September 12, 2018 at 5:23 am

    Whatever they need to do to stop fucking about with things. Side-thought: are the strains used here non-pathogenic? Stay sharp, kids.

  • Reply franzb69 September 12, 2018 at 5:33 am

    what if the bacteria gets out and becomes super bacteria that can't be killed and infects livestocks and people? you don't know what the environmental impacts will be. bacteria evolve and adapt so much faster because of their shorter lifespans.

  • Reply Emperor Zoditron September 12, 2018 at 6:03 am


  • Reply JustGotALife September 12, 2018 at 7:14 am

    This should be shared with all the pani puri walas. So that they can finally save all the E. Coli infected water, they use to make pani puri and grow a booming business.

  • Reply Show bobs and Vagene pls September 12, 2018 at 7:19 am

    In that case…India is a good place to start then ….

  • Reply Ioan Jivan September 12, 2018 at 8:13 am

    But if bacteria is life, this poses ethics problems.

  • Reply Reverend Jynxed September 12, 2018 at 8:31 am

    And how long do the bacteria live? Do you have to toss in a dead cat every now and then?

  • Reply Ra Vee September 12, 2018 at 8:42 am

    If I had a Dollar every time you said "What If…"

  • Reply patryn36 September 12, 2018 at 8:54 am

    solar cells are essentially heat converters. that is why they dope the silicon, silicon has a property called a 'hole' and the materials used for doping are 'willing' to give up electrons when they get warm enough. my thinking currently is that solar panels are used for capturing solar energy because of a need to control the temperatures, otherwise we would see these in nuclear power plants harvesting more of the heat produced.

  • Reply Black bones September 12, 2018 at 8:54 am

    Please tell me what is the actual difference between living and nonliving think pls

  • Reply Bryan Blatz September 12, 2018 at 8:56 am

    Wow colour me impressed, 25x less output for how many times the cost? Please don't tell our eco warriors about this or they will be on the bandwagon!

  • Reply floyd nelson September 12, 2018 at 9:16 am

    what does it mean to have twice the electrical output but 25 times less power?

  • Reply Petrazenka September 12, 2018 at 9:52 am

    The shit has hit the fan…. Feces power, shit power, recycling excrements, doodoo panels.

  • Reply Batmeme September 12, 2018 at 9:58 am

    Stop it SCIENCE, E.coli has life too

  • Reply The Cheaterman September 12, 2018 at 10:10 am

    Is it twice more or 25x less? It's not super clear. Otherwise I loved the video with the colored background and Maren's nice glasses 😀 it looks so trippy and 60's!

  • Reply G. Dave3 September 12, 2018 at 10:19 am

    Genetic Engineering fit whatever purpose is WRONG and potentially VERY dangerous to the natural world!

  • Reply Keng Yuan Chang September 12, 2018 at 10:24 am

    In OLED's case though, increasing number of panels with permanent burns makes consumers and manufacturers rethink about this organic TV future, even when it's so much superior.

  • Reply Cc T September 12, 2018 at 10:44 am

    did you cut your hair, if so how much did you cut off and cool story thank you.

  • Reply Arjekay September 12, 2018 at 10:50 am

    Guess what happens once those alternated E. coli bacteria packed with Lycopene somehow enter the Human body and mingle with our Lycopene-less E. coli bacteria… yea I wonder too

  • Reply Xeno Bardock September 12, 2018 at 11:36 am

    Just put a convex lens at the right distance on top of traditional solar panels and you have increased the efficiency by many times

  • Reply Krys Palys September 12, 2018 at 11:42 am

    As a biologist, I'd like to say; "what a stupid idea".

  • Reply Nathanial Hornblower September 12, 2018 at 12:17 pm

    And what a wonderful way to kill off the general population when our overlords decide to "push that button" …. because everyone who owns a house they will give this solar tech away ……

  • Reply Arkarov September 12, 2018 at 12:24 pm

    Just don't accidentally create the reapers

  • Reply Allen Le September 12, 2018 at 12:27 pm

    So don’t ask if your dreams are crazy…
    Ask if they’re crazy enough -Nike

  • Reply kkg T September 12, 2018 at 12:52 pm

    Like most tech shown in these videos we will never hear about this again.

  • Reply Kobi Morton September 12, 2018 at 1:23 pm

    Pointless, There's far less titanium on Earth than silicon so on a global scale it won't be viable- There's simply not enough resources. I admit this is really clever but it would be more useful to grow algae for biofuel.

  • Reply ShadowDurza September 12, 2018 at 2:41 pm

    So human civilization is finally transitioning into biotechnology huh? Now my friends in the Regulus System won't have a reason to tease me lol.

  • Reply Naga Praneeth Chukka September 12, 2018 at 2:56 pm

    Why only TiO2 ? Why not any other? (Just curious)

  • Reply Raul M. September 12, 2018 at 2:59 pm

    Once you go that far with micro organisms, you might aswell go with biofuels. I would prefer an Electric powered Car but biofuels are greener* than fossil fuels.

  • Reply Tommy McCabe September 12, 2018 at 3:08 pm

    Way cool!

  • Reply Jay Gojiya September 12, 2018 at 3:24 pm

    I have 5kwh solar plant

  • Reply Dexter Sullen 'TRUTH' September 12, 2018 at 4:59 pm

    How long do they last tho

  • Reply Dexter Sullen 'TRUTH' September 12, 2018 at 5:01 pm

    Can I just pee on a solar panel

  • Reply Aniwazoa September 12, 2018 at 5:02 pm

    Very interesting!

  • Reply Nobilis September 12, 2018 at 5:44 pm

    Meaning that currently this video was a waste of time because right now it’s not feasible.

  • Reply yuki teru September 12, 2018 at 6:06 pm

    Solar energy Is the cheapest energy….. Ever are you living

  • Reply Sew mehon September 12, 2018 at 6:19 pm

    oh nano bio 😵😲

  • Reply Dana Putnam September 12, 2018 at 6:40 pm

    The first question I had was don’t the ecoli have to be alive?
    And of course 3/4s in she says oh just one little problem the ecoli have to be alive.
    Ok I am out of here!

  • Reply Dana Putnam September 12, 2018 at 6:42 pm

    Doping E Coli with titanium dioxide? That’s like house paint. One celled organisms have semi Permeable membrane that allows certain molecules in and out. The coating will most likely kill the bacteria.

  • Reply Igor Sawicki September 12, 2018 at 8:43 pm

    25 times less and everything is clear..

  • Reply Bayu Fadhilla September 12, 2018 at 8:49 pm

    Diarrhea panels

  • Reply Boyd Gilbreath September 12, 2018 at 9:33 pm

    RUMP used money that was meant for Hurricane Victims to build Concentration Camps for children! What? He took money from a whole long list of agencies for that? Hello and Welcome, President Pence. Lodestar.

  • Reply sanjuansteve September 12, 2018 at 10:00 pm

    They are 25 times less efficient in normal light conditions, but they gain some back by being more efficient in low light conditions, or was that factored in already? We should all be using electric vehicles charged from the excess power generated from our home, business and covered parking rooftop solar arrays.

  • Reply Eric Outram September 12, 2018 at 10:03 pm

    Ya should 🐝 be in medicine (cancer research)
    Hacking the geno
    For its protein ,pigment s

  • Reply Eric Outram September 12, 2018 at 10:06 pm

    How to keep it alive?precription,or decryption,description?

  • Reply Brian Mathis September 12, 2018 at 10:29 pm

    I haven't read the paper but wouldn't ambient temperature have a huge impact on the bacteria's "productivity" ?

  • Reply Phobos September 12, 2018 at 10:42 pm

    She is so hot. Both intellectually and physically.

  • Reply Igor S September 12, 2018 at 11:36 pm

    Annoeeeeng voieaace

  • Reply Mike CorLeoné September 13, 2018 at 2:31 am

    Remember ebola.. zika… west nile… hiv… etc remember those geoengineered mosquitoes that were released into the public that ended up killing a bunch of people… how is this better..

  • Reply Harry Potter September 13, 2018 at 2:34 am

    Solar panels aren’t that expensive
    80% of the sun still gets through clouds
    That e-coil shit sounds way more expensive


  • Reply ICONIC MUSIC September 13, 2018 at 2:57 am

    I'm. so. attracted.

  • Reply wabi sabi September 13, 2018 at 4:58 am

    Why not just use tomatoes? Hah! 😂

  • Reply Jaspreet Singh September 13, 2018 at 5:30 am

    and soon there would be people going " bacteria's have rights too!!"

  • Reply Sandwish September 13, 2018 at 6:41 am


    Coli (proof that memes are made for smart people) :p

  • Reply Atheist Guy19 September 13, 2018 at 7:30 am

    Are they positively/Negativity CHARGED, or P/N-Type Semiconductors??
    I believe the later is true.

  • Reply Dean Reading September 13, 2018 at 10:51 am

    "the lycopene produce the same energy in dim or bright light because they're so effective at harvesting energy from the sun"
    That doesn't mean they're very effective, it means that their conversion efficiency drops at higher solar intensities…

  • Reply kght222 September 13, 2018 at 10:59 am

    2:40 it also bring a whole new meaning to getting sick from breaking electronics. although given the option between mercury poisoning (damaged tv tubes and cuts) and food poisoning…. i'll take the 24hr bug.

  • Reply kght222 September 13, 2018 at 11:02 am

    i apologize, but trace much? it isn't the braces, it's the eyes.

  • Reply MyView September 13, 2018 at 2:09 pm

    What happens when billions of bacteria die and rot, atleast you will be able to know the location of solar panels with smell….

  • Reply asierra1492 September 13, 2018 at 3:30 pm

    This could be just as interesting if they skipped all the bad jokes.

  • Reply THE SILENT GOD September 13, 2018 at 5:33 pm

    could be useful if the problems (bacteria dying, increased production…etc) can be fixed, but our primary focus should be nuclear (or hydro, geo if available). nuclear renaissance is already happening, it is time to embrace nuclear energy.

  • Reply Robert Queberg September 14, 2018 at 1:30 am

    A smart and pretty young lady. Keep up the good work. The world needs a lot of your attitude and abilities. Being part of the baby boom generation the solar power experiments that my brother and we’re able to conduct, was to chase ants across the sidewalk with a magnifying glass. Seeing people like you makes me feel better about the future of our Earth.

  • Reply Ezra Wright September 14, 2018 at 5:34 am

    E. Coli isn't usually harmful unless it becomes infected with a bacteriophage virus.

  • Reply VOLKAN TEKCAN September 14, 2018 at 2:41 pm


  • Reply zacariah heim September 14, 2018 at 2:52 pm

    Interesting, definitely. A transparent liposome based "electrolyte" with dextrose,fructose,glucose,maltose,sucrose etc etc could be added as nano-sphere food packets for the E-coli. The refractive index of the liquid electrolyte would have to be taken into account, due to the lipid-nano-spheres, but otherwise this should keep the bacteria alive long enough to make "single use" biosolar cells. Use carbon based electrodes (a transparent top spin-coated conductive bio-degradable plastic as one electrode and carbon-biodegradable plastic as the other, TiO2 coated bacteria in Liposome solution as a gelled thin film electrolyte. These would make really cheap solar panels for clothes and micro-sensors where replacing the panel wouldnt be an issue. With proper manufacturing and application of micro-fluidic channels, the solar cells could increase in life expectancy dramatically as a food source could be provided on demand.

  • Reply zacariah heim September 14, 2018 at 2:57 pm

    First the E.coli Powered Polariton LASER, now E.Coli based Solar Panels. What next? E.coli solar panels powering an e.coli LASER???? Sign me up!! Room temp biological polariton generation!!!! OH YES. We are in the future baby, here we come!!!

  • Reply Mr. Freeze September 15, 2018 at 4:56 am

    Instead of going through all the trouble and risk of altering genes of bacteria, why don't we try to find a way to extract electricity directly from trees?

  • Reply Kalash Sharma September 15, 2018 at 8:22 am

    E. Coli can reproduce very fast and can also mutate fast so probability of this system to work is questionable

  • Reply Aniket Biswas September 17, 2018 at 8:09 pm

    What would you need to study at university to work on this type of stuff?

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  • Reply Cc T September 20, 2018 at 1:48 pm

    Did she have hair down below her ass before as it looks short in this video.i

  • Reply [email protected] September 20, 2018 at 6:13 pm

    When i was in elementary school i asked my biology teacher about that he said …not gonna work…
    What an asshole

  • Reply Yatagarasu4444 September 22, 2018 at 3:23 pm

    Did something similar in my University for Microbiology, we had to create a bacteria battery cell for our assignment.

  • Reply Tibor Z September 26, 2018 at 7:54 pm

    30 years away…

  • Reply RoScFan October 26, 2018 at 6:30 pm

    I dont understand why we dont use bacteria to just turn co2 water and solar energy back into liquid fuel.

  • Reply Russell Bantin October 30, 2018 at 4:04 pm

    So, we will need to feed and water our solar cells?

  • Reply gmjpharmd November 8, 2018 at 7:27 pm

    Just don't use E.coli O157:H7 strain

  • Reply Ronnie Marion November 12, 2018 at 1:28 pm

    Can this bio-solar technology be somehow combined with the new "Golden Sandwich" solar technology developed in Japan? That solar panel harvests 85% ofsunlight, making it 11 times more efficient than standard panels. What if these two methods of solar harvesting could be somehow combined into an even more efficient method?

  • Reply V. Wagner December 11, 2018 at 10:50 am

  • Reply Sebastian L December 12, 2018 at 1:23 pm


  • Reply Rayagoldendropofsun Sunlightelectrorays December 21, 2018 at 2:43 am

    Ocean water is the life source of earth's hot core. It's a process, the hot temperature of it's core splits the water molecules freeing the oxygen hydrogen gases, which then becomes fuel to burn as it's main energy source . This is why Mars is with a cold motionless core, there's no ocean water to fuel it. The present temperature deep within Mars core is enough to splits water molecules freeing the oxygen hydrogen gases, but it needs a larger volume, oceans .
    Here's how it works !
    Pour some water on a hot surface to see the oxygen hydrogen gases rise as gas smoke, that's what happens deep within earth's core.
    Volcanoes are all connected to earth's hot core, and whenever they're spitting out lots of sut and gases into the atmosphere, it's because it may have taken on too much water, of which it can not process, so it pushes it out into the atmosphere to relieve it's tension , and because of this, some volcanoes becomes dormant , others completely die.

  • Reply Adhish Bhardwaj February 12, 2019 at 12:52 am

    Here from Instagram

  • Reply Nelson Darwin Pak Tech May 31, 2019 at 6:34 pm

    The algae can be a good option to convert dirt to crude oil,,,

  • Reply Klaus August 8, 2019 at 6:26 pm

    Rick : Its Societee they work together morty they pay echother they Buy houses they get married make children they replaced them self when there to old to make power

  • Reply Brad B September 16, 2019 at 12:55 pm

    shes so hot like nerdy hot

  • Reply Neil Farbstein September 17, 2019 at 10:46 am

    Your solar panels have to be really hot to make light from heat. Hotter than average.

  • Reply SGT ROCK September 18, 2019 at 12:21 am


  • Reply umar ali September 19, 2019 at 3:55 pm

    Why does science take soooo loooonnnnggggg

  • Reply Matt Horwich September 21, 2019 at 9:41 pm

    I'm pretty damn sure the smart people didn't tell me if the densest neutron star is a magnetar on purpose!!! Just to work my chain!!

  • Reply Mariano Alippi January 22, 2020 at 8:59 pm

    Nice shirt, use this shirt.

  • Reply Collin January 23, 2020 at 4:03 pm

    E. Coli: ive been cured, i dont want to die!.

    Human: oh dont worry!, we wont kill you…

    E. Coli: what? really? what are u going to me?.


    E. Coli: WAIT WHA-

  • Reply D A X January 24, 2020 at 7:13 am

    What happens after the coated bacteria die?

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