One of the problems with solar cells and panels is they take a lot of money to maintain and repair. If only there was only a way for them to repair themselves, then it would bring the costs down dramatically. Luckily researchers at Purdue University are doing exactly this by using carbon nanotubes and DNA to create a self-healing solar cell.

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Image © Purdue University

Speaking to Science Daily, Jong Hyun Choi, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University said, “We’ve created artificial photosystems using optical nanomaterials to harvest solar energy that is converted to electrical power.”

Using plants as their point of inspiration, which self-repair by using natural photosynthetic systems, the team’s design exploits the unusual electrical properties of structures called single-wall carbon nanotubes. “We use them as molecular wires in light harvesting cells,” said Choi, whose research group is based at the Birck Nanotechnology and Bindley Bioscience centers at Purdue’s Discovery Park. “I think our approach offers promise for industrialization, but we’re still in the basic research stage,” he added.

The photoelectrochemical cells work by converting sunlight into electricity with the use of an electrolyte (a liquid that conducts electricity) in order to transport electrons creating a current. These solar cells are then designed to contain light-absorbing dyes called chromophores, chlorophyll-like molecules which degrade when they are exposured to sunlight.

“The critical disadvantage of conventional photoelectrochemical cells is this degradation,” Choi said. His team’s research aims to over-come this by following nature’s lead – by continuously replacing the photo-damaged dyes with new ones.

“This sort of self-regeneration is done in plants every hour,” Choi said. If solar cells can be designed to do the same, then they will be able to operate at full capacity indefinitely, as long as new chromophores are added.

Choi’s report can be read online in an article entitled “Biomimetic light-harvesting optical nanomaterials”. If his team is successful, it could mean for a more rapid adoption of solar cells coming in at a lower cost.


via Science Daily

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