Saturday science subject: Batteries, solar panels, and self-cleaning windows

— 4:30 PM on December 5, 2009

Sometimes, great new inventions stem from entirely accidental discoveries—take the microwave oven, for instance. Soon, we may owe self-cleaning windows, better electric cars, and more productive solar panels to just such an accident.

As ScienceDaily reports, graduate student Lihi Adler-Abramovich and a team led by Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology Professor Ehud Gazit of Tel Aviv University were working on a cure for Alzheimer's disease when they developed a way to make peptides self-assemble into "small forests of grass." A coating made up of such a peptide forest can reportedly repel dust and water, withstand "extreme heat," and be produced just as inexpensively as aspartame. ScienceDaily has more:

Coated with the new material, the sealed outer windows of skyscrapers may never need to be washed again -- the TAU lab's material can repel rainwater, as well as the dust and dirt it carries. The efficiency of solar energy panels could be improved as well, as a rain shower would pull away any dust that might have accumulated on the panels. It means saving money on maintenance and cleaning, which is especially a problem in dusty deserts, where most solar farms are installed today.

That's not all. The peptide coating also behaves as a super-capacitor, ScienceDaily writes, which could have uses in electric cars:

As a capacitor with unusually high energy density, the nano-tech material could give existing electric batteries a boost -- necessary to start an electric car, go up a hill, or pass other cars and trucks on the highway. One of the limitations of the electric car is thrust, and the team thinks their research could lead to a solution to this difficult problem.

According to Adler-Abramovich, the coating could even work with existing lithium batteries. Real-world applications might be just around the corner, too: ScienceDaily notes that Professor Gazit's lab "has already been approached to develop its coating technology commercially." Gazit himself will continue to work on Alzheimer's research, though.

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