Description: The need for clean, renewable and maintainable energy is increasing as the main energy source of today’s modern world is fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are considered to be nonrenewable, which means they cannot be replaced at the same rate they are being consumed. The purpose of this project is to research new ways of producing energy with both solar and fuel cell technologies.
Start: 1 September 2015
End: 31 August 2016
- Sponsor: Utah Governor’s Energy Leadership Scholars Program
- Principal Investigator: John Colton
- Co-PI: Cameron Olsen
In order to find new ways to produce energy, researchers will use a protein called ferritin. Found in many organisms, ferritin has properties that will allow for it to act as solar cells that will harvest light. Some of these properties include being resistant to deterioration and remaining stable in extreme acid levels and temperatures.
Scientists have begun to develop multi-junction solar cells, which refers to a type of cell that is meant to absorb and convert light efficiently. The only problem is that they lack the substance needed to absorb the most amount of light. Ferritin presents a possible solution. Part of this project will work to utilize the different nanoparticles in ferritin that can accomplish the task of absorbing the maximum amount of light.
Additionally, ferritin will be used for fuel cells. Fuel cells are a great alternative to using fossil fuels because they produce considerable levels of energy with the only byproduct being water. Ferritin also has the ability to assist in converting bio-waste products into energy that can be stored. The issue with fuel cells, however, is that there is not a good way to control the energy. This is because there is no substance to initiate a process called oxygen reduction. Ferritin has special nanoparticles that would allow for it to act as this needed catalyst to control the energy at a desired rate. The ferritin also has nanoparticles that will help it to convert waste bio-products that can be stored as energy. Thus the research in this project will be partly focused on the ferritin’s ability to achieve the ultimate goals of storable energy and acting as an oxygen reduction catalyst. Ferritin also can be used to help produce hydrogen gas. With all of these characteristics of ferritin, researchers will be able to compare the results of the ferritin’s ability with other catalysts more frequently utilized in modern fuel cell technology.
Previous studies by Erickson et al have shown the potential for ferritin nanocrystals to act as the light harvesting medium in bioorganic hybrid solar cells. In the past research has been somewhat limited because of a limit in what’s called “band gap energies” in the metals. This research will investigate enlarging the band gap energies to expand the predicted efficiency limit of the solar cell with ferritin. There is a recent discovery of how to create new types to nanoparticles in the ferritin that will hopefully be able to expand these band gap energies. Other research has shown some success un using materials similar to silicone and lead sulfide nanoparticles. Thus part of the project will work to control the synthesis of both lead and iron sulfide nanoparticles inside of ferritin to measure their band gap.
Through the success of this project, Utah will have more options of innovative energy technology with the fuel and solar cells. This will eventually help reduce the reliance on fossil fuels and lower energy production costs. The use of ferritin will also ultimately increase the efficiency of energy production because it is cheaper and cleaner. This will make Utah a country-wide leader in energy research and production.