Enough solar energy hits the Earth in an hour to meet global power demand for an entire year: the trick is catching it, and doing it with equipment cheap enough to allow it to compete with fossil fuels. Researchers at the University of Quebec in Montreal have made progress on both those fronts by improving on the promising technology of dye-sensitized solar cells. This type of solar cell is easier to manufacture and has a lower cost per watt of energy than the photovoltaic array you might see on your neighbor’s roof. It’s also – at least theoretically – more versatile.
The trouble is that dye-sensitized cells rely on cathodes that are covered in platinum — which, as your credit card company will tell you, ain’t cheap. Others have tried and failed to find a functional substitute for platinum, but the Canadian researchers, led by Benoît Marsan, have found that cobalt sulfide is not only cheaper but also more efficient at converting sunlight into electricity. Marsan’s team also looked to improve the dye – another major focus of solar R&D. They were able to substitute a transparent gel which, they say, is more efficient and longer-lasting.
In the big picture, all of these improvements move toward a single goal: making it affordable for average Joes and Janes to install and use solar arrays.