In the video below, MIT researcher Andreas Mershin describes advances in producing photovoltaic cells based on waste plant material, such as grass clippings.

The work is an extension of a project begun eight years ago by Shuguang Zhang, associate director at MIT’s Center for Biomedical Engineering. Zhang extracted the tiny structures within plant cells that carry out photosynthesis from plants, stabilized them chemically and formed a layer on a glass substrate that could produce an electric current when exposed to light. But assembling and stabilizing the material required expensive chemicals and sophisticated lab equipment and the efficiency of the solar cell was several orders of magnitude too low to be of any use –  it had to be blasted with a high-power laser to produce any current at all.

Now the process has been simplified to the point that virtually any lab, even a high scholl science lab, could replicate it. The new system’s efficiency is 10,000 times greater than in the previous version. But it still only converts 0.1% of sunlight’s energy to electricity and It needs to improve at least another tenfold to become useful.

Dr Mershin says that if the improved efficiency can be achieved, a villager in a remote location could take anything green, even grass clippings, mix it with the stablizing powder and paint it on his roof to produce electricity.