Science bases itself in evolution, and evolution brings development to society, whether is human or not. When we think of science, we think of Europe, Asia or North America. Costa Rica isn’t exactly the name that comes to mind when we hear about scientific advances. Thanks to the country’s recent development, everything is changing, including science, in this case, solar energy.

That’s where Dario Chinchilla’s work comes in, his specialties lie in Chromatography and Proteins. He also conducts a research that plans in taking advantage of Costa Rican plants so that solar panels can harness energy in a more efficient way.

¿Who’s Dario Chinchilla?

Dario Chinchilla is a Biochemistry graduate of the University of Costa Rica. He currently teaches organic chemistry at UCR and is known for encouraging students into learning more about the matter. In the past few years, Chinchilla promotes chemistry involved events where his students make their own products. These products help communities and that way, practical learning becomes better learning in the long run.

Applied science makes for better learning, and Chinchilla believes in entrepreneurship, the right stimuli for students can make a difference. “The idea is giving them a plus so that they not only know the basics of chemistry”, says Chinchilla. He hopes that this applied chemistry exercise can give jobs to his students in the future.

By giving chemistry a little practical twist, Chinchilla turned around the approving percentages in his class. He says that before, only 30% of his class would pass his course, those numbers have risen up to 70%. This comes as a consequence of the Entrepreneurship, Research and Development Fair he takes part in personally.

Solar Energy, a trending topic in Costa Rica

Renewable energies define Costa Rica in recent years, its laws and culture nurture the use of green energies. The local government installs solar panels to poor communities where people can’t afford paying for electricity or they live too far away for cables to reach them. To this date, over 5,000 solar energy systems work in indigenous communities, frontier outposts, and faraway health centers.

Costa Rica’s efforts in solar energy go back to 1978. Due to the country’s commitment to renewable energy and environmental awareness, Ticos shifted their way of thinking. Now, solar energy is one alternative along with geothermal, and hydroelectrical, being the latter the main power source in the nation.

Such efforts elevated the Central Americans, last year they achieved 200 consecutive days without using carbon based energies. Costa Rica surpassed European countries like Sweden, where only about 50% of their electricity comes from renewable sources. The Costa Rican Institute of Electricity said their plan is bringing forth the biggest electrical project in Central America, producing up to 305MW of energy.

Tico plants to make better solar power plants

Experts from UCR say that Costa Rican flora can give clues in creating third generation solar panels. If these panels produce equal or more energy, it would mean a breakthrough for Central American science. Dario Chinchilla conducted the studies made on a variety of flowers after a previous selection process all over the country.

After four years collecting samples in 40 cantons all over Costa Rica, only three species made the final cut. The similarities in these species lie on the height they live in, approximately 8,500 feet above sea level. Chinchilla emphasized the importance of seeking alternatives to synthetic pigments – used in solar cells which compose solar panels – that cost more money, are harder to find and can potentially endanger scientists.

“The purpose of finding natural pigments is trying to substitute synthetic ones. If they can’t replace them, we can at least use them as a platform to locate the right structure for these devices”, he commented. This last sentence makes sense, as Costa Rica possesses one of the biggest biodiversities reserves in the world.

This research can serve as a starting point for other scientists to keep evaluating natural pigments. That way, the solar energy obtained is more in the end. “This is the first national study where a big quantity of our floral species was analyzed. It is also the first time there’s a chemistry-focused proposal for the main pigments”, affirmed Chinchilla.

How does solar energy work?

Solar energy works based on photosynthesis, it’s the way plants harness energy for themselves. The plant’s pigment is what captures the sun’s photons and allows an electron injection which generates electricity, explained Chinchilla.

“The composition of the pigments are normally unknown, their properties may potentially have applied use, in this case, we want to employ them for solar energy”, said Andrea Soto, who worked in building the cells and classifying them.

Participants

The Electrochemistry and Chemical Energy Research Center originally conducted this project. With Scientist Leslie Pineda leading the research team. Soto and Natalie Flores, along with Karina Torres assembled and classified the solar cells and granted the pigment data.

Chinchilla conducted the rest of the study focused on pigments. Additionally, Victor Castro and Renato Murillo worked as collaborators.

For more information on Solar Panels in Costa Rica visit www.EnergyEconomics.cr