Solar cells from tobacco plants? The solution to one of the world’s worst problems – a new, renewable source of energy other than fossil fuels – could come from another major problem – smoking.
This somewhat surprising news comes from a research carried out at the University of California, Berkeley. This new discovery is based on the possibility of literally programming the cells of the plants to get solar cells from tobacco plants. The science behind it is actually pretty simple (at least in explanation form) and pretty amazing. By using a genetically engineered virus, scientists were able to literally transform the cells of the plants to create synthetic solar cells.
Instead of creating some new form of tobacco plant, they are actually applying their chemistry to full grown tobacco plants. Their custom-made virus is sprayed on the plants and then all you have to do is sit and wait for nature – and chemistry – do their job. The virus acts as any other virus would: it infects a cell which then enables the virus to spread to other cells. Spreading creates artificial chromophores that make high powered electrons out of light.
Tobacco plants themselves cannot be used for direct solar energy, of course: harvesting the old-style is still required in the process. Once harvested, the structures are extracted and put into a liquid solution to dissolve. This solution is then applied to plastics or glass and there is the magic happens, solar cells from tobacco plants is a reality. While the whole process may seem a little off the wall, if this process can be refined and work in mass form, it totally changes solar energy as we know it.
These cells would not be expected to last as long as “typical” solar cells, but they would probably be much less expensive. That being the case, solar cells from tobacco leaves could provide both an organic way to produce solar cells and the economic boost that the farming industry needs.
Exciting, isn’t it? Imagine the effect that it could have not on our economy only, on the whole organizing of our world. Geopolitics would definitely be changed, with tobacco growing countries taking the place of today’s OPEC countries as major players on the world’s stage. With a difference: there are many more tobacco-growing countries, than oil-producing countries.
A danger could lie in an excess of investments into the new market: lurked by the promise of new, easier revenues, farmers large and small might turn their fields to tobacco. The world would, then, win a new, renewable source of energy, but lose crops usuallly meant for human feeding.