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I work in the PV industry and was asked a question recently during a presentation. Could Bioluminescence provide enough light to power a PV array during off peak hours? I understand the PV portion and the light spectrums needed to power the photovoltaics, but I have no clue how the science of Bioluminescence works or what type of light is emitted. I have the suspicion that this may be theoretically possible, but would require too much raw material? Any insight would be appreciated.

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

Here is a report addressing this, I haven't read it in detail, but I've skimmed it and it looks like they've done a pretty good job, and address a number of key points, talk about the emission spectra of certain organisms, etc. Bioluminescence – a source of marine energy?

From the conclusion: "The low light output of bioluminescent species relative to solar light may render the conversion of bioluminescent light into electrical energy uneconomic as a stand-alone option."

I agree with them that it would be possible to extract energy that way. I also agree that its not even close to economical. You lose energy at so many steps, you have chemical energy in whatever the cells eat to grow, then some small fraction of that chemical energy will be turned into light energy, most of that light will shoot out in the wrong direction and just get absorbed by other stuff in the culture. If you want to use bugs, a better option would probably be a microbial fuel cell, where microbes sit on an electrode, oxidize some chemical, and take that electron and dump it straight onto the electrode. This is still a pretty inefficient process as far as energy production technologies are concerned, but at least it skips the waste associated with conversion of the chemical energy into light energy and then back into electricity.

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