Professor Nathan Nelson of Tel Aviv University has discovered a crystal that could revolutionize solar energy in a common vegetable. In his search for “green” energy, Nelson discovered a complex membrane structure located in the pea plant that could teach humans how to produce energy with far greater efficiency.
The structure, called the Photosystem I (PSI) complex, is used by the plant to turn sunlight into fuel with a 100 percent yield. The complex's minute crystals could be used as microscopic batteries, Prof. Nelson suggests, or could form the core of solar cells.
"My research aims to come close to achieving the energy production that plants can obtain when converting sun to sugars in their green leaves,” he explains.
Current solar energy technology remains impractical in many climates, and is generally unable to meet energy demand. “If we could come even close to how plants are manufacturing their sugar energy, we'd have a breakthrough,” Nelson says.
Nelson's team has already met with some success in attempting to harness the power of the pea plant in the creation of electricity. By placing the plant's PSI crystals on a gold-plated surface, the scientists were able to generate 10 volts of power. This initial success will not solve the energy crisis, Nelson says, but could already be put to use in meeting small-scale solar power needs.