Plants

BioSolar Cells does research on the genetic aspects of photosynthesis in various plant species: in particular how plants’ photosynthesis systems function under different growth conditions. The aim of our research is to improve the efficiency of photosynthesis in plants. 

Plants are not very efficient at capturing and converting solar energy. Depending on the plant species and growth conditions, the maximal efficiency of this process is no more than 1 to 2%. By making photosynthesis in plants more efficient, crop yields can be increased. This is not only interesting for farmers and growers, but also good for the world’s food and energy supply.

Increasing photosynthesis efficiency in plants

With a passionate story about his research - aiming to improve the photosynthesis process of plants in order to meet the world population's growing demand for food - the Wageningen University PhD candidate Padraic Flood won the International Final of FameLab 2014. He spoke about breeding plants that are more efficient in "turning light into life". Watch his presentation which starts at 36 minutes in the video below.

Model plants

To improve photosynthesis in plants we need more detailed knowledge on the mechanisms involved. Research can help us to learn about the differences between C3 and C4 plants, and also more about C3 plants which are known to have an enormous photosynthetic capacity, such as the desert plant Camissonia brevipes. BioSolar Cells is developing this knowledge using two model plants:  Thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana)  and tomato.

Eight knowledge gaps

 BioSolar Cells focuses on eight areas in which it is building up more knowledge in order to develop plants with improved photosynthesis. These are called the knowledge gaps for plants:

1. The development of physical techniques to monitor relevant photosynthesis-related parameters in vivo: C.3.A1 System-level integration of the process of photosynthesis in vivo and theapplication to various C3 plants;

2. Study of photosynthetic properties of relevant plant/crops under a variety of (stress) conditions and temperatures in relation to biomass production: partly in Project C.3.A1 System-level integration of the process of photosynthesis in vivo and theapplication to various C3 plants, and partly in the EU HARVEST project (Response of photosynthetic organisms to light stress conditions)

3. The development of whole-plant models that explicitly include photosynthetic:
Project 3.B1: Developing heuristic in silico models for C3 photosynthesis integrating electrochemical, biophysical and biochemical processes, and
Project 3.B2: Light Capturing Framework for Biosolar Cells

4. Quantitative correlation of photosynthetic parameters to biomass productivity. Deze kennisleemte wordt gevuld door het toepassen en testen van de bovenstaande modellen voor photosynthese-eigenschappen in hele planten op de plantensoorten waarop BioSolar Cells zich richt.

5. Identification of the limiting factors in biomass productivity in Arabidopsis, Camissonia and tomato under various conditions:
Project C.3.A1: System-level integration of the process of photosynthesis in vivo:  Application to various C3 plants,
Project C.3.A2: Response of photosynthetic organisms to light stress conditions, carried out in the EU HARVEST project , and
Project C.3.A3: Genetic variation in Arabidopsis thaliana of photosynthesis parameters in response to abiotic stress.;

6. The identification of the relevant genes involved in photosynthesis and preferentially controlling the relevant traits to facilitate genetic improvement of plants/crops biomass productivity: project C.3.A3: Genetic variation in Arabidopsis thaliana of photosynthesis parameters in response to abiotic stress and project C.3.B3 Physiological and genetic analysis of 3D microscale gas exchange and light penetration;

7. The development of a whole system approach for developing enhanced photosynthesis characteristics/properties and improved:  project C.3.B3: Physiological and genetic analysis of 3D microscale gas exchange and light penetration, in which they use data from the projects C.3.A1: System-level integration of the process of photosynthesis in vivo:  Application to various C3 plants and C.3.A3: Genetic variation in Arabidopsis thaliana of photosynthesis parameters in response to abiotic stress;

8. Improvement of tomato productivity under ‘economically relevant’ conditions. Het doel hiervan is het remmende effect van gevormde koolhydraten op de fotosynthese te beperken en de efficiëntie van de fotosynthese bij lage temperaturen te verbeteren.

Fundamental research

In addition a fundamental research project is being carried out on plants via the Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter (FOM):
F3.1:  Phenotypic engineering of higher plants: Developing a new paradigm for improving photosynthetic efficiency

NGI Pre-Seed Grant: Electricity from living plants

Plant-e recently received a Pre-Seed grant to help develop the company and new products. Plant-e’s technology makes it possible to generate electricity from living plants that can continue living during the process. This makes the technology very sustainable, and the operation of the power plant based on this principle will be very low coast. The technology was patented in 2007. After five years of lab research, Plant-e is now taking the first steps toward commercialising the technology.

On 30st March 2013 Plant-e started a crowd funding activity at OnePlanetCrowd. The objective is to raise 100,000 Euros in private loans, ranging between 80 and 10,000 Euros. 

The video below shows how Plant-e's technology works.

 
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