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Solar Cells that Grow on Trees?

Solar Cells that Grow on Trees?

| On 28, Jul 2013

Forbes reported that new research from the Center for Organic Photonics and Electronics (COPE) at Georgia Tech has again bumped up the efficiency of cellulose-based solar cells– that is, solar cells that don’t rely on petroleum or glass, and can be dissolved in water within 30 minutes to be recycled and re-used.

The researchers developed the solar cells using natural substrates derived from trees and fabricated them on cellulose nanocrystal (CNC) substrates which means the solar cells can be quickly recycled in water at the end of their lifecycle.

The cells now have a 2.7% conversion efficiency, about one-third to one-fifth of what other petroleum- or glass-based substrates.  It is generally considered necessary to get to the 10-20% conversion efficiency range to be commercially viable, but that assumes that all technologies have similar cost-of-goods, which the cellulose solution purportedly does not– it’s far cheaper than current technologies producing in the 10-20% range.   And scientists at COPE are highly confident that the conversion efficiency of the cellulose-based solar cells can be raised to the level of organic photovoltaics that utilize glass or petroleum-based substrates.

For short-term, low-cost applications, the technology is perfect.  Even with the lower efficiency, the super-low cost makes them productive and economical for certain applications even at their current conversion rates. And the fact they are recyclable to be used again, further fuels their economic viability given the apples-to-apples cost and conversion-efficiencies discuss rarely includes the intangible (or at least not often talked about) costs of using scarce, non-renewable resources (like petroleum) or the disposal issues once other technologies have lived their life.

Nonetheless, the technology looks economically promising.

Separately, scientists at Princeton have even developed first-generation solar cells that mimic leaves.

Shouldn’t surprise us, should it?  We’ve successfully biomimicked many technologies, it’s only a matter of a little applied research and some dough to fuel it before we are “growing” electricity-generating plants.

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