Bacteria Soon to Grow Photovoltaic Cells?

A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, taking their cue from nature, have released a new study that shows that organic materials can be used to conduct electricity and emit different colors of light.

Apr 1, 2014 at 10:51AM

This article was written by -- the leading provider of energy news in the world. Also check out these recent articles.

One of the major drawbacks of solar power generation remains the high cost of raw materials needed to manufacture photovoltaic cells.

A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, taking their cue from nature, have released a new study that shows that organic materials can be used to conduct electricity and emit different colors of light. The researchers took their inspiration from natural materials such as bone, which is a matrix of non-organic minerals and other substances, including living cells, and have managed to stimulate bacterial cells to produce biofilms that can incorporate nonliving materials, such as gold nanoparticles and quantum dots. These "living materials" combine the advantages of live cells, which respond to their environment, produce complex biological molecules, and span multiple length scales, with the benefits of inorganic materials, which add functions such as conducting electricity or emitting light.

MIT Assistant Professor of electrical and biological engineering Timothy Lu said that the new materials could one day be used to design more complex devices such as solar cells, self-healing materials, or diagnostic sensors. Lu remarked, "Our idea is to put the living and the nonliving worlds together to make hybrid materials that have living cells in them and are functional. It's an interesting way of thinking about materials synthesis, which is very different from what people do now, which is usually a top-down approach." 

MIT researchers observed that there are many biological examples of efficient energy production. While Nature has created efficient energy generation using organic materials humanity has not yet done so, up to now using instead inorganic materials that are frequently inordinately expensive. The MIT research is accordingly seeking a way to engineer living materials so that they can be used to build more effective photovoltaic materials.

Professor Lu is the senior author, along with Allen Y. Chen, Zhengtao Deng, Amanda N. Billings, Urartu O. S. Seker, Michelle Y. Lu, Robert J. Citorik and Bijan Zakeri of a paper, "Synthesis and patterning of tunable multiscale materials with engineered cells," describing the living functional materials in the March 23 issue of "Nature Materials."

The paper's abstract notes, "Many natural biological systems—such as biofilms, shells and skeletal tissues—are able to assemble multifunctional and environmentally responsive multiscale assemblies of living and non-living components. Here, by using inducible genetic circuits and cellular communication circuits to regulate Escherichia coli curli amyloid production, we show that E. coli cells can organize self-assembling amyloid fibrils across multiple length scales, producing amyloid-based materials that are either externally controllable or undergo autonomous patterning. We also interfaced curli fibrils with inorganic materials, such as gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) and quantum dots (QDs), and used these capabilities to create an environmentally responsive biofilm-based electrical switch, produce gold nanowires and nanorods, co-localize AuNPs with CdTe/CdS QDs to modulate QD fluorescence lifetimes, and nucleate the formation of fluorescent ZnS QDs. This work lays a foundation for synthesizing, patterning, and controlling functional composite materials with engineered cells."

The MIT team's research has enormous potential for the energy field. Lu says that the hybrid materials could be worth exploring for use in energy applications such as batteries and solar cells. The researchers are also interested in coating the biofilms with enzymes that catalyze the breakdown of cellulose, which could be useful for converting agricultural waste to biofuels. The study proves the theoretical concept, with researchers highlighting such uses as the possibility of growing photovoltaic modules rather than having to manufacture these modules, suggesting that a new era of highlight efficient solar panels may soon be dawning.

Duke University associate professor of biomedical engineering Lingchong You, who was not part of the research team observed, "I think this is really fantastic work that represents a great integration of synthetic biology and materials engineering."

Are you ready to profit from this $14.4 trillion revolution?
Let's face it, every investor wants to get in on revolutionary ideas before they hit it big. Like buying PC-maker Dell in the late 1980s, before the consumer computing boom. Or purchasing stock in e-commerce pioneer in the late 1990s, when it was nothing more than an upstart online bookstore. The problem is, most investors don't understand the key to investing in hyper-growth markets. The real trick is to find a small-cap "pure-play" and then watch as it grows in EXPLOSIVE lockstep with its industry. Our expert team of equity analysts has identified one stock that's poised to produce rocket-ship returns with the next $14.4 TRILLION industry. Click here to get the full story in this eye-opening report.


Written by John Daly at

4 in 5 Americans Are Ignoring Buffett's Warning

Don't be one of them.

Jun 12, 2015 at 5:01PM

Admitting fear is difficult.

So you can imagine how shocked I was to find out Warren Buffett recently told a select number of investors about the cutting-edge technology that's keeping him awake at night.

This past May, The Motley Fool sent 8 of its best stock analysts to Omaha, Nebraska to attend the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder meeting. CEO Warren Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger fielded questions for nearly 6 hours.
The catch was: Attendees weren't allowed to record any of it. No audio. No video. 

Our team of analysts wrote down every single word Buffett and Munger uttered. Over 16,000 words. But only two words stood out to me as I read the detailed transcript of the event: "Real threat."

That's how Buffett responded when asked about this emerging market that is already expected to be worth more than $2 trillion in the U.S. alone. Google has already put some of its best engineers behind the technology powering this trend. 

The amazing thing is, while Buffett may be nervous, the rest of us can invest in this new industry BEFORE the old money realizes what hit them.

KPMG advises we're "on the cusp of revolutionary change" coming much "sooner than you think."

Even one legendary MIT professor had to recant his position that the technology was "beyond the capability of computer science." (He recently confessed to The Wall Street Journal that he's now a believer and amazed "how quickly this technology caught on.")

Yet according to one J.D. Power and Associates survey, only 1 in 5 Americans are even interested in this technology, much less ready to invest in it. Needless to say, you haven't missed your window of opportunity. 

Think about how many amazing technologies you've watched soar to new heights while you kick yourself thinking, "I knew about that technology before everyone was talking about it, but I just sat on my hands." 

Don't let that happen again. This time, it should be your family telling you, "I can't believe you knew about and invested in that technology so early on."

That's why I hope you take just a few minutes to access the exclusive research our team of analysts has put together on this industry and the one stock positioned to capitalize on this major shift.

Click here to learn about this incredible technology before Buffett stops being scared and starts buying!

David Hanson owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and American Express. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Google, and Coca-Cola.We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

©1995-2014 The Motley Fool. All rights reserved. | Privacy/Legal Information