Natural photosynthetic proteins can convert solar energy into electrical energy with close to 100% quantum efficiency, and there is increasing interest in their use for sustainable photoelectrochemical devices. The primary processes of photosynthesis remain operational and efficient down to extremely low temperatures, and natural photosystems exhibit a variety of self-healing mechanisms. Herein we demonstrate the use of an amphiphilic triblock copolymer, Pluronic F127, to fabricate a self-healing photosynthetic protein photoelectrochemical cell that operates optimally at sub-zero temperatures. A concentration of 30% (w/w) Pluronic F127 depressed the freezing point of an electrolyte comprising 50 mM ubiquinone-0 in aqueous buffer such that optimal device solar energy conversion was seen at −12 °C rather than at room temperature. Fabrication of the protein photoelectrochemical cells with flexible electrodes enabled the demonstration of self-healing of damage caused by repeated mechanical deformation. Multiple bending cycles caused a marked deterioration of the photocurrent response to around a third of initial levels due to damage to the gel phase of the electrolyte, but this could be restored to ~95% by simply cooling and rewarming the device. This self-recoverability of the electrolyte extended the operational life of the protein cell through a process that increased its photoelectrochemical output during the repair. Utility of the cells as components of a touch sensor operational across a wide temperature range, including freezing conditions, is demonstrated.
- Bristol BioDesign Institute
- Protein photoelectrochemical cells
- quasi-solid electrolyte
- amphiphilic triblock copolymer
- low temperature
- Rhodobacter sphaeroides