Researchers at the University of Buffalo have created a new class of photosensitizing dyes that will give a one-two punch to the efficiency of solar energy systems, making both solar electricity panels and clean-burning hydrogen fuel generators more efficient. The new dye-sensitized solar cells function by turning solar energy directly into an electrical current — they bypass the complex system of conductors needed in most solar panels, making them cheaper to produce.

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Dye-sensitized solar cells convert sunlight directly into electricity when photons knock electrons free in the dyes to form an electrical current. These cells are traditionally less efficient than silicon-based solar cells, but they are attractive because of their low price. The cells are also capable of producing hydrogen fuel by utilizing the freed electrons to drive a chemical reaction that splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. The researcher’s new class of chemical dyes — called chalcogenorhodamine dyes — absorb more light than conventional dyes and are more effective at releasing their electrons and transferring energy.

This type of solar cell has been oft overlooked in the past due to its low efficiency compared to silicon cells, however this discovery by UB researchers could make the cells much more viable on the market by increasing their efficiency — but not their price. The research team, led by UB Professor Michael Detty, have just received a notice of allowance from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for the chemical composition of their dyes. “Sunlight in one hour could power the world for a year, but we don’t tap into it for either electricity or for making solar fuels,” Detty said. “If we want to have energy independence, it will come from solar.”

+ University of Buffalo