A team of researchers from North Carolina State University developed self-healing solar cells, which reinvigorate themselves as their performance decreases with time in a very effective, cheap and environmentally friendly manner.
Each cell is based on organic systems and has a network of channels, which mimic the function of the organic vascular systems of plants.
The scientists came up with the prototype in their attempt to solve the issue of deterioration of organic materials in typical solar cells after exposure to sunlight. The team decided to turn to nature, an approach also known as biomimicry, and tried to replicate the exact functions of branched network in plant leaves, which is responsible for maintaining water and nutrient levels.
The new organic solar cells comprise of water-based gel core, electrodes, and light-sensitive organic dye molecules, which generate the electrical current. As the efficiency of the solar cells drops, the small channels inside the cells are filled with fresh dye, while the exhausted by the ultraviolet rays dye gets pumped out. After a few cycles, the new solar cells were completely restored.
Orlin Velev, the Invista Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at North Carolina State and a lead author of the study published in the journal Scientific Reports, stated that this design is the most effective out of the numerous other designs the team used to compare.
The solar cells developed as part of the study funded by the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Energy hold a great potential to be not only much more environmentally friendly than the conventional silicon-based solar cells, but also far cheaper.