In our quest to replace fossil fuels with solar power, we have to first fix the solar cell, which typically stops working at temperatures above 100°C. Luckily, researchers at TU Wien may have just discovered a way to solve this issue with a solar cell that can work at 400°C.
Based on the doctoral research of Georg Brunauer, the new solar cell can work at temperatures of 400°C, which makes it possible for the cell to store solar energy. Traditional solar cells need batteries or supercapacitors to store the energy from sunlight, and often convert that energy directly into electricity instead of storing it, which requires high temperatures.
Related: Paper-thin solar cells could provide power for 1.3 billion people
Brunaeur’s system combines photovoltaics and electrochemical storage to store UV light chemically. It’s reminiscient of the way plants store energy from the sunlight, which humans had not been able to replicate on a large scale until Brunaeur’s findings indicated it could be possible.
Traditional solar cells are silicon-based, but the new solar cell is built with special metal oxides, called perovskites. This change allows the cell to work at high temperatures, which is important step towards providing solar power for many people at once. “This would allow us to concentrate sunlight with mirrors and build large-scale plants with a high rate of efficiency,” Brunauer said.
The system also has the potential to split water into oxygen and hydrogen, and to split carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide. These processes would allow the cell to synthesize fuels. “This goal is within reach, now that we have shown that the cell is working,” said Brunauer. What’s next? Research continues, and Brunauer has begun a startup company, NOVAPECC, to start building an industrial prototype.
Images via Alex Lang on Flickr and TU Wien