Spinach isn’t only good for building muscles like Popeye. Turns out, it’s pretty good at boosting the strength of solar cells, too.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University have discovered that by coating silicon solar cells with the photosynthetic protein present in spinach, it allows the cells to produce a substantially higher electrical current than generated by previous “biohybrid” solar cells. The protein, called photosystem 1 (PS1), converts sunlight into electrochemical energy in spinach with nearly 100 percent efficiency. The team reported their findings in the journal Advanced Materials earlier this month.

“This combination produces current levels almost 1,000 times higher than we were able to achieve by depositing the protein on various types of metals. It also produces a modest increase in voltage,” said Vanderbuilt associate professor of chemistry David Cliffel, a collaborator on the project.

While scientists have known for more than 40 years that PS1 continues to convert sunlight into electricity even after being taken out of plants, using it to enhance the efficiency of solar cells is relatively new research. By “doping” the silicon wafers in positively charged atoms and then coating them in PS1, researchers have been able to generate 850 microamps of current per square centimeter, about two and a half times previously produced.

“If we can continue on our current trajectory of increasing voltage and current levels, we could reach the range of mature solar conversion technologies in three years,” said Cliffel.

We’ll be waiting.

[Source: Vanderbuilt University via NBC News]

Image Credit: Amrutur Anilkumar/Vanderbilt University