Pushing electrons: how does nature make it work in natural two dimensional solar cells?

Photosynthesis is the process of using solar energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide and water into chemical energy and oxygen. This not only provides the food we eat and the oxygen we breathe, but also much of the energy we use to power our homes and vehicles through “buried sunshine” in the form of fossil fuels.

However, there is now an urgent need to stop burning fossil fuels in order to reduce carbon emissions and prevent catastrophic climate change, and so alternative energy sources are desperately needed. One of the most lucrative options is to directly harvest solar energy from the sun and convert it into an electrical current using photovoltaic devices.

The photosynthetic machinery that absorbs and traps solar energy in nature works at a greater efficiency than any artificial competitor, and so there is great interest in incorporating this biological material into bio-hybrid photovoltaic devices. Recent developments mean that we can now create hybrid networks with similar properties to native photosynthetic networks, and combining different biological components from a range of different organisms could further improve the efficiency of energy transfer and photocurrent generation.

This project will look at nano-patterning photosynthetic components from a range of different organisms onto substrates such as glass and silicon, and measuring the fluorescence energy and photocurrent generated by these devices. The insights gained from this work could therefore inspire the design of more efficient photovoltaic devices.


Tom Davies has contributed to ‘How Bad Are Bananas?’. The book was mentioned in The Times and in The Independent. The author of the book, Mike Berners-Lee, calculates the carbon footprint of nearly 100 activities – from reading a spam email to flying into space.

Thomas Davies


Dr Matt Johnson

Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology


Professor Neil Hunter

Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology

Professor Mark Dickman

Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering