College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences

Harvesting energy from sunlight

What if there were a two-for-one sale on kilowatts? Your power bill would be cut in half — not a bad result for your monthly budget.

Energy drives everything we produce and consume, and global energy consumption continues to grow year after year. The two-for-one image came to mind as I talked with Professor Jeanne McHale of Washington State University. McHale is a chemist who researches an alternative approach to making solar cells that produce electricity.

“There’s no question we have a lot of solar energy that strikes the planet each day,” McHale told me. “It’s an often-quoted statistic that just one hour of sunlight all over the planet has enough energy to give us what we need for a year.”

The challenge is capturing that energy at economical rates. Traditional solar cells are made of expensive and high-tech ingredients. They work, but at a relatively high price and with negative environmental impacts. For some time now, scientists have been looking at an alternative version, called dye-sensitized solar cells. Most researchers use synthetic organic dyes or dyes containing an element called ruthenium. The McHale lab is one of the few using plant dyes.

McHale studies pigments like betanin, one of the molecules that makes beets red. Betanin can be used in these alternative solar cells. Recently McHale and her team found a way to have each photon striking the betanin produce two electrons.

“This means we could double the electrical current of dye-sensitized solar cells,” McHale told me.

One of the challenges for McHale is that a one-electron reaction occurs in parallel with the desired two-electron reaction, producing what chemists call a “free radical.” Those are highly reactive and damaging molecules. The free radicals in the dye-sensitized solar cells damage the betanin. Currently McHale is working on what are called co-pigments — molecules that can be attached to betanin to make it more stable under the influence of free radicals.

“The way I think of it is that we have a molecule that’s a model: one that can help us design better molecules that would produce two electrons per photon without the degradation problem,” McHale said.

Calculations show that the maximum possible efficiency of dye-sensitized cells is about 30 percent. What’s been achieved so far is 13 percent. That doesn’t sound too good until you learn that plants — in their process of photosynthesis — have an efficiency of about 1 percent.

“The joke is that if plants went to the government for funding, they would never be awarded a grant,” McHale said.

Although I’m a geologist who spent part of her early career studying the geology of fossil fuels, I think that securing more of our energy needs through solar power would be potentially good for the planet and a triumph of sophisticated science. Here’s wishing McHale’s lab the very best!

 

Dr. E. Kirsten Peters, a native of the rural Northwest, was trained as a geologist at Princeton and Harvard. This column is a service of the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University.

 

 

CAHNRS is more than agriculture. With 24 majors, 19 minors, and 27 graduate level programs, we are one of the largest, most diverse colleges at WSU. CAHNRS Cougs are making a difference in the wellbeing of individuals, families, and communities, improving ecological and economic systems, and advancing agricultural sciences.

Featured Event

Illustration of a woman holding wine near a music band. Text over the image reads: The Auction of Washington Wines Wine and Music Festival, WSU Tri-Cities Campus, June 10, Saturday 6 pm. Learn More. Support Wine.

FACTS

Diversity

With 24 majors, 19 minors, and 27 graduate level programs, CAHNRS is one of the largest, most diverse colleges at WSU.

Scholarships

CAHNRS students are awarded more than $600,000 in scholarships annually.

Discovery

CAHNRS leads in discovery through its high-quality research programs. In 2014, CAHNRS received research funding exceeding $81.5M. This accounts for nearly 40% of all research funding received by WSU.  

Opportunity

CAHNRS has 39 student clubs and organizations to enhance student experiences and opportunities.

Job Opportunities


4-H Youth Development Program Associate Director (pdf)
Position # 124955



CAHNRS Academic Programs

Fall undergradsUndergraduate Studies

Check out what our academic departments and programs have to offer, from Interior Design to Agriculture to Wildlife Ecology. We have 13 departments and schools to prepare you for your chosen career.

Grad student dogGraduate Studies

Students have a variety of options to pursue masters and doctoral degrees. Many of these have very specific background requirements, so we suggest exploring the individual programs for academic guidelines.

CTLLCenter for
Transformational
Learning & Leadership

The CTLL is a student, faculty, alumni and industry partner collaboration for high quality learning and leadership beyond the classroom.

 

Inspiring Teamwork - Arron Carter pic

Inspiring Teamwork – Arron Carter

It started with a car, a ’69 Corvette Stingray to be exact.

When Arron Carter, the director of the Washington State University Winter Wheat Breeding Program, was in high school his agricultural teacher had a ’69 Corvette Stingray. Every year this teacher would let his favorite senior take the car to senior prom. Carter had never taken an agriculture class before, but he knew he wanted to drive that car.

“Well, if I’m going to be the favorite senior,” Carter said to himself, “I’d better start taking some ag classes.”…

Read More: Inspiring Teamwork – Arron Carter

 










CAHNRS Office of Research

Agricultural Research Center

Mission Statement

The goal of the Washington State University CAHNRS Office of Research is to promote research beneficial to the citizens of Washington. The Office of Research recognizes its unique land-grant research mission to the people of Washington and their increasing global connections. The CAHNRS Office of Research provides leadership in discovering and applying knowledge through high-quality research that contributes to a safe and abundant food, fiber, and energy supply while enhancing the sustainability of agricultural and natural resource systems.

Research Update

Washington State University’s screening continues to find no evidence of glyphosate herbicide resistance in Pacific Northwest wheat varieties

In each of the last three years (2014, 2015 and 2016), the field screening process has involved over 80 varieties, 2,000 advanced breeding lines and more than 35,000 individual plots from WSU cereal breeding and variety evaluation programs. Collectively, varieties included in these trials represent over 95 percent of the wheat acreage planted in Washington.

Featured Research

Want fries with that? Stealth potato virus threatens industry

Newly emerged viruses threaten the U.S. potato industry, including potatoes grown in Washington. Several newly evolved strains of the disease known as potato virus Y, or PVY, can render potatoes unmarketable and reduce crop yield. What’s worse is the new viruses are particularly difficult to detect with the naked eye.

Horned larks undeterred by efforts to protect canola seedlings

Horned larks are turning up in droves near Lind, Wash. and decimating newly planted winter and spring canola fields despite multiple efforts to deter them.

In search of the perfect steak

Imagine taking your first bite of a $40 rib-eye steak—only to chew on beef that’s as tough as shoe leather. Talk about disappointment! “A tough steak is not a pleasant experience,” says Frank Hendrix, a WSU Extension Educator and animal scientist.

Workshops to discuss changing water forecast for Columbia Basin

How changing water availability in the Columbia River Basin could affect people, farms and fish is the focus of a series of free public workshops in June. Scheduled for June 21, 22 and 23 in Richland, Wenatchee and Spokane, the workshops give a first look at the 2016 Columbia River Basin Long-Term Water Supply and Demand Forecast.

After landslide, communities rewarded for resilience

Two years after the deadly landslide that devastated the Oso, Wash., area, the towns of Darrington and Arlington were announced April 27 as finalists in the America’s Best Communities (ABC) competition.

$11M funds food safety tech transfer to markets

WSU aims to meet growing demand for safe, high quality, additive-free packaged foods thanks to two recent investments in innovative food processing technology based on microwave energy.




Alumni & Friends

Welcome to alumni, friends, and supporters of the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS). You are a core part of our CAHNRS Coug family and have made major impacts in our college, communities, and throughout the world. We recognize only a handful of them here.

More than 9,000 alumni and friends contributed to our Campaign for WSU, the most ambitious fundraising effort in university history. The campaign concluded in 2015 with $215 million and endless amounts of impact. Here is a glimpse of what transpired in the Campaign.

Although the campaign concluded, momentum continues to make a difference in our land-grant mission and education. On-going investment in time and resources from our alumni and friends helps to advance our best programs, attract the most talented faculty, and support our brightest students.

There are so many ways to stay involved with CAHNRS. Share your news in the college’s magazine ReConnect. Get involved with student success or support our college as whole by making a gift to the CAHNRS Excellence Fund.

 

Contact Us

CAHNRS Alumni & Development
PO Box 646228
Pullman, WA 99164-6228
PH: 509-335-2243
alumni.friends@wsu.edu







Faculty & Staff

Important Dates and Deadlines

 

A-Z Index of Faculty and Staff Resources:

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Contact Dean’s Office:
Hulbert 421
PO Box 646242
Pullman WA 99164-6242
cahnrs.deans@wsu.edu
509-335-4561

Lisa Johnson:
Assistant to the Dean
Hulbert 421C
PO Box 646242
Pullman WA 99164-6242
janowski@wsu.edu
509-335-3590







How many varieties of wheat has WSU developed?

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