Some engineers at Oregon State University have discovered a way to use an old way of life to create one of the most innovative production technologies for solar energy systems that can be surprisingly simple to build compared to existing solar cells based on silicon.

These small forms of marine unicellular life existed for at least 100 million years, and much of ocean life depends on them, directly or indirectly for their livelihoods. But in addition, diatoms have hard shells that can be used to create structures in a natural way to an extremely small scale, something with great potential for nanotechnology.

Biology rather than using conventional methods of production of semiconductors, researchers at Oregon State University and Portland State University have created a new form of solar cell type DSSC (dye-based), in which photons bounce as if on a machine to play Pinball (Flipper ) or automatic pool, beating these pigments and producing electricity. The new technology developed can now be more expensive than some existing methods for manufacturing solar cells DSSC, but could lead to triple the electricity produced.

Most of the existing solar cell technology based on silicon and is reaching the limits of what can be done with it. "There is a great opportunity to develop different types of solar energy technology and is likely to eventually find a use several forms, depending on the situation," says Greg rorro, professor of chemical engineering at Oregon State University.

The fundamental difference between the new method of manufacturing solar cells and the above procedures DSSC lies in the steps necessary to manufacture these devices, and the potential improvements it offers.

The new system is based on living diatoms, and especially in the shells of these unicellular algae. These shells have a kind of nano-structure that is suitable for the manufacture of solar cells DSSC. The first step is to let the algae are placed in a transparent surface conductive glass, and then withdrew the living organic material, leaving only small skeletons of diatoms to form a template.

Then using a biological agent to precipitate soluble titanium in very tiny nanoparticles of titanium dioxide, creating a thin film that acts the same way as did the semiconductor solar DSSC. The steps that would have been laborious and difficult to perform with conventional methods, are carried out very easily through these natural biological systems, using simple and inexpensive.