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International Journal of Photoenergy
Volume 2012, Article ID 425735, 10 pages
Research Article

Energy Conversion in Protocells with Natural Nanoconductors

1School of Engineering and Applied Science, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06511, USA
2Material Measurement Laboratory, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD 20899, USA

Received 22 June 2011; Accepted 17 July 2011

Academic Editor: Tebello Nyokong

Copyright © 2012 Jian Xu et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


While much nanotechnology leverages solid-state devices, here we present the analysis of designs for hybrid organic-inorganic biomimetic devices, “protocells,” based on assemblies of natural ion channels and ion pumps, “nanoconductors,” incorporated into synthetic supported lipid bilayer membranes. These protocells mimic the energy conversion scheme of natural cells and are able to directly output electricity. The electrogenic mechanisms have been analyzed and designs were optimized using numerical models. The parameters that affect the energy conversion are quantified, and limits for device performance have been found using numerical optimization. The electrogenic performance is compared to conventional and emerging technologies and plotted on Ragone charts to allow direct comparisons. The protocell technologies summarized here may be of use for energy conversion where large-scale ion concentration gradients are available (such as the intersection of fresh and salt water sources) or small-scale devices where low power density would be acceptable.