Scientists from Michigan Technological University (MTU) developed 3D graphene, a material which has a great potential in replacing platinum, bringing down significantly the cost of conventional dye-sensitized solar cells.
Graphene is no doubt a miracle material with numerous properties, many of which are not even discovered yet. It almost feels like scientists nowadays are pushing boundaries and racing to discover new and exciting applications for it, contributing to energy efficient and sustainable future.
Here is yet another success story staring graphene, this time helping solar cells become more affordable without compromising their generating capacity. In their search for a cheaper alternative to platinum, the element responsible for the high cost of dye-sensitized solar cells, Professor Yun Hang Hu and his team at MTU developed a method to synthesize a highly conductive 3D honeycomb-structured graphene with incredible catalytic activity. The work was fully funded by the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund and the National Science Foundation.
The key was to initiate a chemical reaction between lithium oxide and carbon monoxide, which resulted in formation of lithium carbonate and honeycomb-like graphene. The lithium carbonate not only makes shaping of the graphene sheets much easier, but it also prevents the formation of graphite by isolating the sheets from each other.
Initial tests on the new material revealed its potential in energy storage and conversion, so the team decided to replace platinum in a solar cell and compare the output. The results were striking. The difference in conversion of sunlight into electricity was only 0.2%, indicating that 3D graphene is indeed just as good, but much cheaper to obtain.
What else could we wish for? The team claims that there is nothing to stop the synthesizing of 3D graphene from becoming a widely applicable method, so with no challenges ahead, we could expect cheaper solar cells on the market very soon.