Photosynthetic Solar Cell

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 1( a) and (b) depict two different methods for self-assembling stabilized photosystem 1 (biologically derived sensitizer) onto metal oxides
Andreas Mershin
Laboratory of Molecular Self-Assembly, MIT
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Brian Cook
Laboratory of Molecular Self-Assembly, MIT
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Shuguang Zhang
Laboratory of Molecular Self-Assembly, MIT
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Christopher Noble
MIT Technology Licensing Officer - Clean and Renewable Energy
Patent Protection

Bio-sensitized solar cells (BSSC)

US Patent 8,796,544
Self-assembled photosystem-I biophotovoltaics on nanostructured TiO2 and ZnO
Nature Scientific Reports , Article number: 234 (2012)


This technology can be applied to the fabrication of solar cells. It leverages the natural photosynthetic process to provide a lower cost and higher energy yield replacement for silicon-based solar cells.

Problem Addressed

Currently, the most widely used form of solar cells are made using silicon — where silicon is essential to the photovoltaic process that converts light into electricity. However, the production cost of silicon solar cells is high, both in terms of monetary and energy costs.  The current technology introduces a solar cell that does not depend on silicon for the photovoltaic effect; instead, biological systems are used to convert energy by leveraging photosynthesis, thereby significantly lowering the cost of production.


The current technology describes various methods to achieve this "bio-sensitization" of the solar cell. Protein based components (which can be derived from plant photosystems, bacterial reaction centers, algae, and so on) are first selected as "sensitizers", then stabilized using a range of recommended surfactant peptides. These stabilized sensitizers are then deposited onto metal oxide nanowires, through methods such as covalent chemical coupling, photochemical cross-linking, or surface modification. Because of the use of biologically-derived solar converters, cheaper and more widely available materials, such as Zinc Oxide, can be used in the nanowires. Previously, this would have been infeasible due to their low photoelectric efficiency.

The overall result is a low cost "photosystem" where incident solar energy drives a photochemical reaction in the sensitizer. Electrons are then released, which are transmitted through the nanowires onto an electrode.


  • Reduced financial and energy cost of solar cell production
  • Widespread availability of component materials