Photosynthesis and the Laws of Thermodynamics

Photosynthesis and the Laws of Thermodynamics

Photosynthesis is the systematic process used by plants as a means to harness solar energy. A semiconductor-based solar cell harnesses solar energy to convert it to electricity required by and used by humans. As such, the process of photosynthesis is a contributor to both plant and solar cells. There are numerous similarities and differences between plant and solar cells; however, they both ultimately work to produce energy. A plant cell is a structural and functional unit of a plant and characteristically has rigid cell walls Blankenship, 2011). With the simplest form of a plant cell, it forms a single cell constituting an entire organism, carrying out all life functions. One of the most conspicuous features of the plant cell is the presence of membrane bound organelles referred to as plastids. A photovoltaic or solar cell is a device that captures energy and transforms solar radiation to electricity through the photovoltaic effect. In order to generate power that is useful, the solar cell must form a group of cells that are interconnected, referred to as photovoltaic module or a solar panel. The amount of power generated by the solar cell is contingent upon the amount of natural or sunlight that falls on the solar panels. Weather can also be a determining factor in the amount of energy captured by solar panels (Blankenship, 2011).

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Solar cells are man-made and only capture energy, while plants capture it in addition to storing it. Plant cells convert the energy of light into food through a process known as photosynthesis while solar cells (also called photovoltaic cell or photoelectric cell) are asolid state electrical unit that reconstruct the energy of light directly into electricity by the photovoltaic effect (Blankenship,2001); whereas, the biogenic migration of atoms is greatly increased through the numerous biogeochemical cycles that meet during photosynthesis. While differing from plants, solar cells produce, but do not absorb the heat during the process. That is, much of the sunlight that come into contact with a solar cell is either absorbed or reflected as heat, without causing an electrical current. Solar cells work best at the freezing temperatures that are found in the vacuum of space.

Solar cells’ source of light does not have to be sunlight; however photosynthesis in plants does not occur without direct sun light or natural light. Plants have to power something that is alive, whereas solar cells only have to send electricity down a wire. This is an important difference due to the fact that if there are any mistakes made duringphotosynthesis, the result can be toxic because organisms are killed off.A plant uses only about one-sixth of the energy itgets from the sun I order to nourish itself. The remaining energy is housed in the glucose until it is eaten by other humans or animals.

Thermodynamics is the study of the inter-relation between heat, work and internal energy of a system. In essence the laws of thermodynamics can be understood in the following way:

“You cannot win (that is, you cannot get something for nothing, because matter and energy are conserved).

You cannot break even (you cannot return to the same energy state, because there is always an increase in disorder; entropy always increases).

You cannot get out of the game (because absolute zero is unattainable)” (Blankenship 2011).

Thus, according to the 1st law, energy will not be produced if either the plant cell or the solar cells are not fed light. The 2nd law states that once the cells are fed, there will be results and lastly, the 3rd law states that process of producing energy is an ongoing process.


Blankenship, R. (2011). Comparing photosynthetic and photovoltaic efficiencies and recognizing the potential for improvement. Science, 332 (6031), 805-809.

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