Solar cells currently used are mostly bulky and made from silicon and other non-recyclable materials, hence they’re not as green as they should be. Mimicking nature might be a solution to this problem. More exactly, North Carolina State University researchers have prototyped a water-based solar cell, mimicking the functioning of a leaf, to produce electricity.
They infused the water-based gel with light-sensitive molecules, such as chlorophyll. They had been coupled with electrodes coated by carbon nanotubes or graphite. The way this cell works to harness its energy from the Sun is exactly the way plants gather their own energy from light and transform it into chemical reactions, synthesizing sugars.
The team is led by Dr. Orlin Velev, who is also the lead author of the paper published online in the Jounal of Materials Chemistry. Velev says naturally-derived products are much better to be used in this type of solar cells, as they are easily integrated in water-gel matrix devices. The researchers will now fine-tune the already-proven concept, making the solar cells work just like real leaves.
“The next step is to mimic the self-regenerating mechanisms found in plants,” Velev says. “The other challenge is to change the water-based gel and light-sensitive molecules to improve the efficiency of the solar cells.”
“We do not want to overpromise at this stage, as the devices are still of relatively low efficiency and there is a long way to go before this can become a practical technology,” Velev says. “However, we believe that the concept of biologically inspired ‘soft’ devices for generating electricity may in the future provide an alternative for the present-day solid-state technologies.”
As from my experience with seeing this kind of discoveries, I’m saying that there area several questions to be answered before considering it as a fully-working, ready to be manufactured solution. One issue would be that of time endurance, in real-life conditions, at high temperatures. Because natural chlorophyll is very sensitive, a synthesized version of it would be the final version, imho. For example, see this discovery I wrote about a while ago, talking just about how a solar cell can renew itself.