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This Bacteria Could Help Solar Panels Perform on Cloudy Days

By Kristin Hunt

When it comes to solar energy, the elements often get in the way. Solar panels harness the most power when the sun is up and burning bright, so if it’s storming or just a tad overcast, they could be banking little to no energy.

Scientists at the University of British Columbia think they have a work-around for this age-old problem. They’ve developed a solar cell that converts dim and bright light into energy at equal efficiency — and it comes from E. coli bacteria.

This new solar cell is “biogenic,” or made from living organisms. The UBC researchers produced it by genetically engineering E. coli so the bacteria created large quantities of lycopene, a natural dye found in tomatoes, watermelon, and other red produce. Why were they so interested in lycopene? The pigment is especially sensitive to light, and great at harvesting it.