The World's #1 Renewable Energy Network for News, Information, and Companies.

Solar Panels From Grass Clippings: Researchers Make Progress on "Biophotovoltaics"

It's chore day. You've raked the leaves, taken out the recycling, and emptied out the old junk in your garage. But wait — don't toss it all out! You have all the ingredients for your very own homemade solar system.

If new advances in “biophotovoltaics” research are any indication, you may someday be able to create your own solar “goo” from plant matter and apply it to metal or glass.

A group of researchers has found a way to break down plant matter, isolate photosynthetic molecules, and then spread those molecules on a metal or glass substrate. So theoretically, you could take a bag full of leaves and grass, pour in a mixture of chemicals to break them down, and then finish your chores by painting the liquid on your windows to produce electricity. Not bad for a day’s work.

Researchers have been working on biophotovoltaics for many years, only to be hindered by low efficiencies, rapid degradation, and difficulties in spreading the photovoltaic “goo” onto a substrate. But nine scientists have just published research on new advances that boost performance and may allow for inexpensive substrates like recycled glass and metal to be used:

To improve photovoltaic performance we increased the light absorption cross-section without changing the footprint by departing from the traditional flat electrode geometry in favor of mesoscopic, high-surface area semiconducting electrodes (TiO2 nanocrystals and ZnO nanowires). Finally, we showed how high affinity peptide motifs10 bioengineered to promote selective adsorption to specific substrates can enhance photovoltaic performance. These materials, geometries and design resulted in simple, robust biophotovoltaic devices of unprecedented performance.

In short, the researchers have created a method to stabilize the photosynthetic molecules. And by coating a substrate with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide nanowires, they can now turn any sort of glass or metal material into a working solar cell with efficiencies better than ever before.

It’s a fascinating discovery. But don’t get too excited yet. Efficiencies are still extraordinarily low — only at .01 percent. They’d need to be about 10 times that in order to power a light or charge a cell phone. So for the foreseeable future, don’t expect to be painting your house with a bag of grass clippings.

However, as research advances and performance continues to improve, MIT physicist Andreas Mershin says it could be perfect for remote applications in developing countries. 

This article was originally published on Climate Progress and was republished with permission.


Quantifying Returns: Does Energy Storage Coupled with PV Offer Big Savings?

Andrew Burger, Contributor

Still in their infancy, battery-based intelligent storage systems haven't built up the performance track record most banks and investors like to see when committing capital to a new technology, project or company.

Renewable energy jobs

Global Renewable Energy Employment Surges 18 Percent to 7.7 Million

Andrew Burger, Correspondent Ongoing growth in renewable energy investment and deployment is creating jobs worldwide — and lots of them. This job growth is helping governments address a fundamental economic problem plaguing developed and developing cou...
Beach sand

Italian Company Uses Sun-Heated Sand to Produce Energy

Flavia Rotondi and Alessandra Migliaccio, Bloomberg

Italy’s well-known sun and sand form the basis of many beach holidays. An Italian company has also found another purpose for the combination: energy production.

Panasonic Japan solar module manufacturing

Panasonic Ramps Up Japanese Solar Manufacturing to Meet Domestic Rooftop Demand

Junko Movellan, Correspondent Panasonic Corp, a Japanese electronics company, announced that it will expand its domestic solar cell and module production to meet the rooftop solar demand in Japan. The company will invest a total of 9.5 billion yen (US$7...
I am a reporter with, a blog published by the Center for American Progress. I am former editor and producer for, where I contributed stories and hosted the Inside Renewable Energy Podcast. Keep in to...


Volume 18, Issue 3


To register for our free
e-Newsletters, subscribe today:


Tweet the Editors! @megcichon @jennrunyon



EU PVSEC 2015 (European PV Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition)

The EU PVSEC is the largest international Conference for Photovoltaic re...

CA Wine Industry's 2015 Solar Update- WEBINAR

Proceeds from event registration will go to the CA Sustainable Win...

Energy Security: Opportunity Power with the Sunny Boy Secure Power ...

Wouldn’t it be great to have a grid-tied inverter that could still...


Can We Just Allow Florida To Be The Sunshine State?

We attended Solar Power Southeast, a regional solar show put on by&...

The Outlook for Midwest Solar

Our whirlwind solar conference tour continues! Yesterday we touched down...

Well, Hello There Southeast — We Are Excited To Be Here

We’ve traveled 651 miles into the heart of the Deep South to atten...


Renewable Energy: Subscribe Now

Solar Energy: Subscribe Now

Wind Energy: Subscribe Now

Geothermal Energy: Subscribe Now

Bioenergy: Subscribe Now