Swedish Researchers Use Dripping Jellyfish Goo to Create New Solar Cells

9 September 2010 3,778 views 4 Comments


Life is funny sometimes.  Just yesterday I was talking to a coworker about this crazy book I’m reading that I may have mentioned in a previous post called The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil, in which the author posits that we are moving towards a world where our technology and biology fuse to become indistinguishable, and now today I’m writing about solar cells powered by bioluminescent jellyfish.  Let me also say that I’d much rather write about jellyfish than swim with them; they navigate the sea in creepy pulsing motions and some of them sting and some of them can kill you.

Lucky for all of us, Swedish researchers do not share my trepidation and have devised a way to make quivering, gelatinous, bioluminescent jellyfish into electricity.  The specific jelly they used is called Aequorea victoria, and it was chosen because the organism produces a green fluorescent protein (GFP) that, when dripped onto a silicon dioxide substrate between two electrodes, works itself into strands to create a circuit that absorbs photons and emits electrons in the presence of ultraviolet light.  The electron current (aka electricity) can then be used to power your hairdryer or whatever.

Image courtesy Inhabitat

The jellyfish solar cells function similar to dye-sensitized solar cells, but don’t require titanium dioxide (Scott).  GFP “doesn’t require expensive additives or costly processing, but can go directly onto the substrate where it starts cranking out juice. Further, it can be integrated into a self-contained fuel cell that requires no outside light source. Photons would instead be generated within the fuel cell by enzymes like the ones found in natural light-producers, like fireflies or sea pansies. Such a power source could be miniaturized to power tiny nano-devices” (Dillow).  I’m sorry – the idea of a nano-scale fuel cell powered by glowy enzymes is riotously cool.

Image courtesy Inhabitat

I will point out that jellyfish were harmed in the production of the solar cell, but it should also be noted that the world’s oceans are currently chock full of jellyfish.  They apparently thrive on toxic and acidified ocean water (see Gulf Oil Disaster).  In fact I was dismayed to learn that right now as I type there are massive jellyfish swarms roaming the high seas like so many hordes of wasps.  That simile was a bit tortured but you know what I mean.  Perhaps harvesting pollution-produced jellyfish from the ocean and using them to make electricity without burning fossil fuel could be a good thing?  What do you think?

The jellyfish goo is being filed under water for obvious reasons and fire because of the glowing/electricity angle.   Cited:

Dillow, Clay.  “Swedish Researchers Harness Green Goo to Create Solar Cells from Jellyfish.” Popsci 09/07/10.  Accessed 09/09/10.  URL.

Scott, Cameron.  “Solar Cells made from Bioluminescent Jellyfish.”  Inhabitat 09/08/10.  Accessed 09/09/10.  URL.

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  • Ruth Ann Landa said:

    Hey…God had this figured out a long, long time ago…if you so choose to believe in him (which I do BTW). Sometimes you’ve gotta go backwards to go forward. Poor jellyfishes. Awww.

  • Rob Borkowski said:

    First GFP revolutionizes Molecular Biology, now it has its sights set on Renewable Energy? Sweet!

    Of course, you can already use bacteria/yeast/immortalized cells to make metric boatloads of GFP… Though I can see the appeal of the purification-less “drip it and forget it!” method!

  • Alli Dryer (author) said:

    @Rob – How is GFP being used in Molecular Biology?

  • Rob Borkowski said:

    Well, it was at least good enough to warrant the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry!

    It’s comparable to the difference between still photography and video. At the time, almost any time you wanted to take a picture of anything specific inside a cell, you had to “fix” the cell at that position in time, and then get your labeling agents into the now dead cell in order to get an image of that one point in time for that one cell.

    By adding GFP to the end of any protein you were interested, you suddenly had the ability to track almost any protein, in real time! The same cell, only with infinite timepoints now. Tweak GFP so it emits red light, and attach it to another protein of interest and NOW you can see if protein A interacts with protein B both spatially AND temporally.

    And that’s just the start.

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