Researchers Produce an Energy-Harvesting Wallpaper That Can Photosynthesize

Scientists from the Imperial College London have printed cyanobacteria onto paper to create a new renewable energy source.
Jessica Miley
A section of the living wallpaperImperial College London

Scientists have developed energy harvesting wallpaper by printing circuitry and cyanobacteria onto paper. The incredible discovery was completed by researchers at the Imperial College London. The wallpaper acts as both a battery and solar panel and even just a small section of the printed paper could be enough to power an LED light bulb. The wallpaper is created using an off the shelf inkjet printer.

 Researchers Produce an Energy-Harvesting Wallpaper That Can Photosynthesize
Source: Imperial College London

Cyanobacteria convert energy using photosynthesis

First carbon nanotubes are printed onto paper. Then an ink made from cyanobacteria is inkjet printed onto the carbon. The still alive bacteria perform photosynthesis which allows the wallpaper to harvest electrical energy. Cyanobacteria are a type of bacteria that get their energy via photosynthesis. Photosynthesis as we know is the process used by plants to convert light into chemical energy in a way that is stored for future use.

The photosynthesizing wallpaper is known as a bio-solar a panel. And while it takes a very long time for it to collect enough usable energy, its inventors think it could have some wide applications.

Tech could have applications in medical sensors

The collaborative team from the Imperial College London together with scholars from Central Saint Martins think that their breakthrough discovery could lead to all sorts of new electrical devices that are made from printed photosynthetic bacteria paper. These new devices could range from paper-based medical sensors to disposable power supplies. Or in its current form of a wallpaper, the invention could be used within homes and offices as a bio-powered environmental sensor.

Co-author of the paper detailing the invention, Dr. Marin Sawa, from the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London, said: “We think our technology could have a range of applications such as acting as a sensor in the environment. Imagine a paper-based, disposable environmental sensor disguised as wallpaper, which could monitor air quality in the home. When it has done its job it could be removed and left to biodegrade in the garden without any impact on the environment.”

One more breakthrough in growing field of BPV

This printed wallpaper is one more step forward in the growing field of renewable energy called microbial biophotoltaics (BPV). BPV find ways to take advantage of cyanobacteria and other algae that operate with photosynthesis. By leveraging these organisms ability to convert light energy scientists can create devices that can produce small amounts of energy while the sun is shining but can carry on producing in low light conditions.


Unfortunately, the research to date hasn’t been able to overcome the expense of the technology. The devices also typically have low power output and short shelf lives. Researchers involved in the wallpaper project were able to use an off the shelf inkjet printer that offers one step closer to this type of system being able to be scaled up to industrial levels.

Dr. Andrea Fantuzzi, a co-author of the study from Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London, said: “Paper-based BPVs are not meant to replace conventional solar cell technology for large-scale power production, but instead, could be used to construct power supplies that are both disposable and biodegradable. Their low power output means they are more suited to devices and applications that require a small and finite amount of energy, such as environmental sensing and biosensors.”

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