Plastic: The new energy source

Sep 02, 2013
Plastic – the new energy source
Professors Nunzio Motta and John Bell use world-standard super microscopes in the race to develop cheap plastic solar cells for mobile devices.

QUT's research to develop cheap plastic solar cells to charge mobile phones and other electronic devices has been boosted with the installation of one of the most powerful nanotechnology microscopes in the world.

The only one if its kind in Australia, the Zeiss Orion NanoFab enables researchers to examine natural or manmade structures in incredible detail, and will create new insights wherever it is applied.

By increasing the beam current, researchers are able to etch away material to create patterns or structures with features of only a few nanometres. This is a tool that can write lines 100,000 times finer than the text on a printed page. Imagine War and Peace etched on the head of a pin - 200 times over.

QUT nanotechnology expert, Professor Nunzio Motta, said the new microscope complemented QUT's existing tunnelling microscope, the only one of its kind in Queensland, and would cement the university's place at the cutting edge of Australian .

He said the super microscopes would be used to create new which could be used in , , and for a range of other uses.

"At the moment are quite inefficient and researchers around the world are trying to determine how to make the cells efficient and able to be commercialised," Professor Motta said.

"The advantages cheap solar cells would produce would be enormous.

"In the future plastic solar cells could generate enough energy not only to recharge the batteries of laptops and mobiles, but even to obtain power from canopies on parking areas which could be fed back into grids.

"They could even be developed as a clear film on glass windows to produce power."

Professor Motta is currently using the tunnelling microscope to improve plastic solar cells by mixing them with graphene, an atomic-scale honeycomb lattice made of . He has found that adding gold nano-particles traps light and improves efficiency.

"While it's difficult to put a timeframe on the development of efficient plastic solar cells, a five to ten year goal is probably not unrealistic," he said.

Professor Motta said his research team also hoped to create a new class of solar-powered nano-sensors capable of detecting pollution and monitoring the environment in remote areas.

He said nanoscale science was critical to the world's future economy as advances would transform a range of scientific and engineering disciplines.

Professor Motta said QUT was organizing NanoS-E3, an International Workshop and School on nanotechnology at Airlie Beach in September.

Explore further: Atom-thick CCD could capture images: Scientists develop two-dimensional, light-sensitive material

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New technology to enable development of 4G solar cells

Jul 29, 2013

Professor Ravi Silva of the University of Surrey's Advanced Technology Institute has identified the range of combinations of organic and inorganic materials that will underpin new 4th generation solar cell technology – ...

UCLA scientists double efficiency of novel solar cell

Jul 29, 2013

Nearly doubling the efficiency of a breakthrough photovoltaic cell they created last year, UCLA researchers have developed a two-layer, see-through solar film that could be placed on windows, sunroofs, smartphone ...

The future of solar-powered houses is clear

Apr 10, 2008

The future of solar-powered houses is clear. People could live in glass houses and look at the world through rose-tinted windows while reducing their carbon emissions by 50 percent thanks to QUT Institute ...

Commercial 'green' solar cells may be possible: researchers

Nov 22, 2011

Developing solar energy that is low-cost, lightweight, and energy efficient has proven to be one of the greatest challenges the science world faces today. Although current plastic solar cells are low in cost and easy to produce, ...

Recommended for you

The simplest element: Turning hydrogen into 'graphene'

Dec 16, 2014

New work from Carnegie's Ivan Naumov and Russell Hemley delves into the chemistry underlying some surprising recent observations about hydrogen, and reveals remarkable parallels between hydrogen and graphene ...

Future batteries: Lithium-sulfur with a graphene wrapper

Dec 16, 2014

What do you get when you wrap a thin sheet of the "wonder material" graphene around a novel multifunctional sulfur electrode that combines an energy storage unit and electron/ion transfer networks? An extremely ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ClimateGuy1973
3 / 5 (2) Sep 02, 2013
Global clean energy investment hit a record $260 billion in 2011. That's five times as much as 2004. The shift to clean energy is already happening. Maybe this would make it feasible to clean up the oceans and get all the plastic floating around it cleaned up. clmtr.lt/cb/wTb0bJd

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.