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Trees key to greener solar cell

Now this is a real green idea, a solar cell made from tree material.

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Researchers for the Georgia Institute of Technology and Purdue University have developed a way to create renewable energy from the sun while eliminating the problem of solar cells becoming waste.

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They use natural substrates derived from plants such as trees for a solar cell that can be dissolved in water at the end of its lifecycle.

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The organic solar cells have a power conversion efficiency of 2.7 percent, still lower than conventional solar cells created using not-so green materials such as silicon but higher than any similar cell previously developed.

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The cells are basically composed of transparent cellulose nanocrystal substrates as a base. Light passes through the substrate to a thin organic semiconductor layer where it is converted to energy.

Most such organic solar cells are fabricated on glass or plastic. While the organic semiconductor layers are easy enough to dispose of safely, the problem is extracting them from the glass or plastic.

Plastic, being a petroleum-based substance is not easy to recycle and glass being breakable can easily become waste. Both substances can be difficult to dispose of.

In contrast, to dispose of the cellulose nanocrystal substrate based organic solar cell, all you have to do is add water and wait. The entire cell is immersed at room temperature. This causes the substrate to dissolve and the solar cell can be separated easily into its components.

“Our next steps will be to work toward improving the power conversion efficiency over 10 percent, levels similar to solar cells fabricated on glass or petroleum-based substrates,” said Georgia Tech engineering professor Bernard Kippelen.

The researchers will continue their work, focusing on optimizing the optical properties of the solar cell’s electrode.

Mr. Kippelen worked with Purdue School materials engineering associate professor Jeffrey Youngblood on the plant-based solar cell technology. A provisional patent on the technology they developed has been filed with the U.S. Patent Office. – EcoSeed Staff

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