The use of solar cells is increasing very slowly. One of the reasons is that the most commonly used type, made from silicon, is quite expensive to manufacture. That is why there has been a great deal of research into alternative solar cells over the past few years.
In searching for solutions, scientists are inspired by nature. Plants are able to transport absorbed solar energy over long distances, typically about 15-20 nanometres, to a location in which it is converted into chemical energy. This is because the chlorophyll molecules in their leaves are arranged in the best possible sequence. During her PhD, Annemarie Huijser attempted a partial recreation in solar cells of this process as found in plants.
She focused on what are known as dye-sensitised solar cells. These comprise a semiconductor, such as titanium dioxide, covered with a layer of dye. The dye absorbs energy from sunlight, which creates what are known as excitons. These energy parcels then need to move towards to the semiconductor. Once there, they generate electric power.Lego
In order to make this new type of solar cell commercially viable, Huijser estimates that the mobility of the excitons needs to increase further by a factor of three. She believes that this is certainly possible. ‘Once that has been achieved, there is nothing to stop this type of solar cell being developed further.’Grätzel cells
Maarten van der Sanden | alfa
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