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 Biologists unravel another mystery of what makes DNA go 'loopy'
16.03.2018 | Emory Health Sciences

nachricht Scientists map the portal to the cell's nucleus
16.03.2018 | Rockefeller University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

Im Focus: ILA 2018: Laser alternative to hexavalent chromium coating

At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25–29, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is showcasing extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA): A video documents how for metal components that are highly loaded, EHLA has already proved itself as an alternative to hard chrome plating, which is now allowed only under special conditions.

When the EU restricted the use of hexavalent chromium compounds to special applications requiring authorization, the move prompted a rethink in the surface...

Im Focus: Radar for navigation support from autonomous flying drones

At the ILA Berlin, hall 4, booth 202, Fraunhofer FHR will present two radar sensors for navigation support of drones. The sensors are valuable components in the implementation of autonomous flying drones: they function as obstacle detectors to prevent collisions. Radar sensors also operate reliably in restricted visibility, e.g. in foggy or dusty conditions. Due to their ability to measure distances with high precision, the radar sensors can also be used as altimeters when other sources of information such as barometers or GPS are not available or cannot operate optimally.

Drones play an increasingly important role in the area of logistics and services. Well-known logistic companies place great hope in these compact, aerial...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

International Virtual Reality Conference “IEEE VR 2018” comes to Reutlingen, Germany

08.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Wandering greenhouse gas

16.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

'Frequency combs' ID chemicals within the mid-infrared spectral region

16.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Biologists unravel another mystery of what makes DNA go 'loopy'

16.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>