Were you aware that a North Carolina State University staff has shown that water gel-based solar devices (called: "artificial leaves") can behave like solar cells to produce electricity? The analysis has been released on-line inside the Journal of Materials Chemistry by Dr. Orlin Velev, an Invista Professor associated with Chemical and Bio-molecular Engineering.
The findings prove the idea for making solar cells that more closely imitate nature. They also have the opportunity to be less expensive and more eco-friendly than the current standard silicon based solar cells.
The bendable products are composed of water-based gel infused using light-sensitive molecules (like plant chlorophyll) coupled with electrodes coated by carbon elements, such as carbon nanotubes or graphite.
Graphene is the standard structural element of a few carbon allotropes such as graphite, carbon nanotubes and fullerenes. Graphene is a 1-atom thick planar sheet of carbon atoms that are largely packed in a honeycomb crystal lattice. The title comes from graphite ene; graphite itself consists of a lot of graphene sheets piled together.
The light-sensitive molecules get "excited" by the sun's rays to produce electricity, similar to plant molecules that get excited to synthesize all kinds of sugar in order to grow.
Dr. Velev claims that the study team hopes to "learn how to copy the materials where nature harnesses solar energy." Although man made light-sensitive molecules can be used, Velev says naturally derived products, like chlorophyll, are also effortlessly integrated in these devices because of their particular water-gel matrix.
Velev even imagines a future in which roofs could be covered with soft sheets of similar electricity-generating synthetic-leaf solar cells. The concept of biochemically inspired 'soft' devices for generating electricity may well in the future provide an alternative for the present-day solid-state technologies.