Researchers at RMTI University, in Melbourne, Australia, have found a solution to the reduced storage capabilities of current technologies used to deposit solar energy.
Following an intricate design already occurring in nature, the scientists developed an electrode prototype that can greatly enhance the accumulative potential of solar cells.
According to a university news release, the new type of electrode made out of graphene — a highly conductible material — increases storage capacity by 3,000 percent and is tailored to be used with supercapacitors. These are far superior to ordinary batteries and can load and release energy a lot quicker.
In the past, supercapacitors have been incorporated in solar power technology but, up until now, weren't considered a reliable storage option due to their restricted capacity. The new graphene-based electrode, however, expands their storing capacity by 30 times.
For this project, researchers drew inspiration from a North American fern.
Prof. Min Gu, head of RMTI's Laboratory of Artificial Intelligence Nanophotonics and one of the scientists who created the electrode, explains the western sword fern (Polystichum munitum) has a very elaborate structural design that offers the answer to effective storage.
Its leaves are packed with tiny veins, arranged in a self-repeating pattern called a fractal, which allows the plant to store energy and transport water and nutrients in a highly efficient manner.
"Our electrode is based on these fractal shapes - which are self-replicating, like the mini structures within snowflakes - and we've used this naturally-efficient design to improve solar energy storage at a nano level," said Gu in a statement.
The newly-developed prototype was featured March 31 in the journal Scientific Reports.
The Future Of Solar-Powered Technology
Study lead author Litty Thekkekara believes the grapheme-based electrode could be combined with existing solar cells to develop flexible thin film solar technology.
"The most exciting possibility is using this electrode with a solar cell, to provide a total on-chip energy harvesting and storage solution," said Thekkekara.
Unlike the rigid and bulky solar cells, thin film technology could be used virtually everywhere. With the help of boosted supercapacitors, the fractal graphene electrode could hold the stored charge for longer and with minimal leakage.
This offers long-term reliability, as well as a quick-burst energy release — making it feasible even on cloudy days, when it's normally difficult to recharge.
This could have endless practical applications, potentially leading to "fully solar-reliant, self-powering electronics." From smartphones, laptops, and smartwatches that don't require batteries to entire solar-powered buildings and hybrid cars that eliminate the need for charging stations.