Photosynthesis vs. Solar Cells

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Photosynthesis vs. Solar Cells

When the subject of solar energy is discussed both the ideas and processes of photosynthesis and solar cells are the basis of these conversations. While both are processing or converting light into energy, which will be explained further, it is the type of energy that is vastly different.

Photosynthesis as a process used by certain plants to convert the suns energy into food. When the electromagnetic energy from the sun reaches a green plant the chlorophyll in that plant reacts and creates and stores sugar molecules that the plant uses as food. In other words the carbon dioxide and water molecules combine with the sun’s light creating oxygen and glucose. As far as chemical reactions go this is a win-win for both plants and animals due to the fact that all animals need oxygen to survive.

Solar cells or photovoltaic cells are non-mechanical devices, usually made of silicon, that absorb sunlight to create electricity. In a solar cell energy is absorbed as wavelengths of light. In the light spectrum wavelengths have various levels of energy. We see some of these wavelengths as different colors. Solar cells are manufactured to absorb only certain wavelengths in order to collect the most energy. When enough energy is absorbed by the silicon (or semiconductor), it is dislodged from that material’s atoms. Many manufacturers will also put a special treatment on the surface of their cells to make sure the electrons migrate as close to the surface as possible, thereby making it more efficient. This sloughed off energy is stored in batteries or directly wired to whatever it may be powering.

Both of these processes are used to harness energy from the sun. While photosynthesis uses chlorophyll (living cells), to absorb the sun, solar cells use photovoltaic or photoelectric cells (non-living), to capture the sun’s energy. With the creation of energy from sunlight, both processes have electrons that are lost creating...
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