Biomimicry at its best

2013 Bayer Young Environmental Leader, Claudia Escobar, is working to provide cheap solar energy in her country, Costa Rica. She told Tunza about her research and her ambitions.

The growing global demand for energy is an issue affecting all countries, but particularly those developing ones that depend on industrialized nations for their energy supply – especially fossil fuels. This doesn’t only create economic dependency: it also has profound environmental impacts.

An alternative for tropical countries is to use solar cells to generate their electricity from solar power. Our research involves developing low-cost solar cells – so-called third-generation solar cells – that mimic the process of photosynthesis by relying on pigments that work similarly to clorophyll to capture the energy in sunlight. This is the really exciting aspect of our work – drawing on our country’s wealth of biodiversity by obtaining pigments from the plants and microorganisms that are so abundant in the tropics.

To date we have studied some 50 different pigments, several of which show promise, and continue to research and improve our purification and evaluation processes to identify the pigment best suited to this type of device, allowing highly efficient electricity generation at low cost – as much as eight times more cheaply than conventional solar cells – as well as using environmentally friendly manufacturing processes. Once we have perfected our design, we hope to work with electricity providers for the production and distribution of the technology at industrial scale.

As for me, I hope to stay in this field of research, not just working on this project, but coming up with new ideas and contributing, if only on a small scale, to efforts to achieve sustainable development in harmony with the natural world.

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