It looks like Blu-ray discs are good for more than just entertainment, as a new study shows they can be recycled to improve the performance of solar cells. Research published by Northwestern University in a recent edition of Nature Communications shows that the information pattern written on the high-density data storage discs can be re-used to improve light absorption across the solar spectrum.

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“We had a hunch that Blu-ray discs might work for improving solar cells, and, to our delight, we found the existing patterns are already very good,” said Jiaxing Huang, a materials chemist and associate professor of materials science and engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. “It’s as if electrical engineers and computer scientists developing Blu-ray technology have been subconsciously doing our jobs too.”

Jiaxing worked with associate professor Cheng Sun to carry out tests on Blu-ray discs containing everything from action movies to documentaries and cartoons. They found that the content of the disc didn’t affect its ability to boost light absorption in solar cells. notes that the discs’ ability to boost light absorption can be traced to the “quasi-random” pattern that allows for high-density data storage, which provides just the right texture for increasing solar cell capacity.

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“We found a random pattern or texture does work better than no pattern, but a Blu-ray disc pattern is best of all,” Jiaxing said. “Then I wondered, why did it work? If you don’t understand why, it’s not good science.”

“In addition to improving polymer solar cells, our simulation suggests the Blu-ray patterns could be broadly applied for light trapping in other kinds of solar cells,” Cheng added.


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