Taking nature’s cue for cheaper solar power

April 4, 2007
Taking nature’s cue for cheaper solar power

Solar cell technology developed by the University’s Nanomaterials Research Centre will enable New Zealanders to generate electricity from sunlight at a 10th of the cost of current silicon-based photo-electric solar cells.

Dr Wayne Campbell and researchers in the centre have developed a range of coloured dyes for use in dye-sensitised solar cells.

The synthetic dyes are made from simple organic compounds closely related to those found in nature. The green dye Dr Campbell (pictured) is synthetic chlorophyll derived from the light-harvesting pigment plants use for photosynthesis.

Other dyes being tested in the cells are based on haemoglobin, the compound that give blood its colour.

Dr Campbell says that unlike the silicon-based solar cells currently on the market, the 10x10cm green demonstration cells generate enough electricity to run a small fan in low-light conditions – making them ideal for cloudy climates. The dyes can also be incorporated into tinted windows that trap to generate electricity.

He says the green solar cells are more environmentally friendly than silicon-based cells as they are made from titanium dioxide – a plentiful, renewable and non-toxic white mineral obtained from New Zealand’s black sand. Titanium dioxide is already used in consumer products such as toothpaste, white paints and cosmetics.

“The refining of pure silicon, although a very abundant mineral, is energy-hungry and very expensive. And whereas silicon cells need direct sunlight to operate efficiently, these cells will work efficiently in low diffuse light conditions,” Dr Campbell says.

“The expected cost is one 10th of the price of a silicon-based solar panel, making them more attractive and accessible to home-owners.”

The Centre’s new director, Professor Ashton Partridge, says they now have the most efficient porphyrin dye in the world and aim to optimise and improve the cell construction and performance before developing the cells commercially.

“The next step is to take these dyes and incorporate them into roofing materials or wall panels. We have had many expressions of interest from New Zealand companies,” Professor Partridge says.

He says the ultimate aim of using nanotechnology to develop a better solar cell is to convert as much sunlight to electricity as possible.

“The energy that reaches earth from sunlight in one hour is more than that used by all human activities in one year”.

The solar cells are the product of more than 10 years research funded by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

Source: Massey University

Explore further: Solar cell efficiency could double with novel 'green' antenna

Related Stories

Changing the color of light

July 23, 2015

Researchers at the University of Delaware have received a $1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation to explore a new idea that could improve solar cells, medical imaging and even cancer treatments. Simply put, they want ...

Where is solar power headed?

July 22, 2015

Most experts agree that to have a shot at curbing the worst impacts of climate change, we need to extricate our society from fossil fuels and ramp up our use of renewable energy.

Spintronics—molecules stabilizing magnetism

July 21, 2015

Organic molecules allow producing printable electronics and solar cells with extraordinary properties. In spintronics, too, molecules open up the unexpected possibility of controlling the magnetism of materials and, thus, ...

Solar battery receives 20% of its energy from the sun

July 14, 2015

(Phys.org)—Last October, researchers at Ohio State demonstrated the world's first solar battery—a solar cell and a lithium-oxygen (Li-O2) battery combined into a single device. The main attraction of the solar battery ...

Nanotech transforms cotton fibers into modern marvel

July 8, 2015

Juan Hinestroza and his students live in a cotton-soft nano world, where they create clothing that kills bacteria, conducts electricity, wards off malaria, captures harmful gas and weaves transistors into shirts and dresses.

Recommended for you

An engineered surface unsticks sticky water droplets

August 31, 2015

The leaves of the lotus flower, and other natural surfaces that repel water and dirt, have been the model for many types of engineered liquid-repelling surfaces. As slippery as these surfaces are, however, tiny water droplets ...

Electrical circuit made of gel can repair itself

August 25, 2015

(Phys.org)—Scientists have fabricated a flexible electrical circuit that, when cut into two pieces, can repair itself and fully restore its original conductivity. The circuit is made of a new gel that possesses a combination ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.