Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Water-Based ‘Artificial Leaf’ Produces Electricity

A team led by a North Carolina State University researcher has shown that water-gel-based solar devices – “artificial leaves” – can act like solar cells to produce electricity. The findings prove the concept for making solar cells that more closely mimic nature. They also have the potential to be less expensive and more environmentally friendly than the current standard-bearer: silicon-based solar cells.

The bendable devices are composed of water-based gel infused with light-sensitive molecules – the researchers used plant chlorophyll in one of the experiments – coupled with electrodes coated by carbon materials, such as carbon nanotubes or graphite.

The light-sensitive molecules get “excited” by the sun’s rays to produce electricity, similar to plant molecules that get excited to synthesize sugars in order to grow, says NC State’s Dr. Orlin Velev, Invista Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and the lead author of a paper published online in the Journal of Materials Chemistry describing this new generation of solar cells.

Velev says that the research team hopes to “learn how to mimic the materials by which nature harnesses solar energy.” Although synthetic light-sensitive molecules can be used, Velev says naturally derived products – like chlorophyll – are also easily integrated in these devices because of their water-gel matrix.

Now that they’ve proven the concept, Velev says the researchers will work to fine-tune the water-based photovoltaic devices, making them even more 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.”

Velev even imagines a future where roofs could be covered with soft sheets of similar electricity-generating artificial-leaf 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.”

Researchers from the Air Force Research Laboratory and Chung-Ang University in Korea co-authored the study. The study was funded by the Air Force Research Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy. The work is part of NC State’s universitywide nanotechnology program, Nano@NC State.

NC State’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering is part of the university’s College of Engineering.

- kulikowski -

Note to editors: The abstract of the paper follows. Velev is currently in Europe on academic leave; please consider the time difference when attempting to contact him.

“Aqueous soft matter based photovoltaic devices”

Authors: Hyung-Jun Koo and Dr. Orlin D. Velev, NC State University; Suk Tai Chang, Chung-Ang University, Seoul, Korea; Joseph M. Slocik and Rajesh R. Naik, Air Force Research Laboratory

Published: Online Sept. 21, 2010, in Journal of Materials Chemistry

Abstract: We present a new type of photovoltaic system based on aqueous soft gel materials. Two photosensitive ions, DAS and [Ru(bpy)3]2+, were used as photoactive molecules embedded in aqueous gel. The hydrogel photovoltaic devices (HGPVs) showed performance comparable with or higher than those of other biomimetic or ionic photovoltaic systems reported recently. We suggest a provisional mechanism, which is based on a synergetic effect of the two dye molecules in photocurrent generation. We found an efficient replacement of the expensive Pt counter-electrode with copper coated with carbon materials, such as carbon nanotubes, carbon black or graphite. These Cu electrodes coated with carbon layers could drastically reduce the cost of such hydrogel devices without efficiency loss. Thus, a new class of low cost and flexible photovoltaic cells made of biocompatible matrix was demonstrated. Biologically derived photoactive molecules, such as Chlorophyll and Photosystem II, were successfully operated in aqueous gel media of such HGPVs.

Mick Kulikowski | Newswise Science News
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>