Humans have gone far in their relentless search for renewable energy sources. A group of scientists in China, for instance, has touted a new method of creating “all-weather” solar panel, which could harness both light from the sun and raindrops as power.
But how does this technology – a game changer that addresses the limitations of solar energy – work to generate electricity?
1. Creating Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells
Researchers from the Ocean University of China and Yunnan Normal University developed dye-sensitized solar cells, which they coated with an ultra-thin film of the miracle component called graphene.
Once light hits the dye in the solar cells, electrons get excited that kickstarts electricity generation, just like how plants transfer energy through chlorophyll.
2. Coating Solar Cells With Graphene
Graphene, a two-dimensional carbon where atoms are bonded in a honeycomb structure, boasts special electronic properties, such as being conductive and rich in electrons that freely move across a whole layer.
When thrown into aqueous solutions, graphene can bind positively charged ions with electrons – the same mechanism used to remove lead ions and organic dyes from a variety of solutions. Given its conductivity, it only takes one-atom-thick graphene for things to work.
3. Raindrops Hitting The Graphene-Treated Solar Cells
Contrary to what may be thought, raindrops are hardly pure water – they are made up of salts that separate into positive and negative ions. The positive ones such as calcium, sodium, as well as ammonium ions bind to the graphene surface, at which point the water becomes suffused with positive ions and the graphene is enriched in electrons.
The water then clings to the graphene and form a dual layer, a function identified as a pseudocapacitor. The difference in electric charge between the layers produces electricity.
The material converted solar to light energy at 6.5 percent – a far cry from current industry capabilities, where top solar panels today can efficiently convert up to 22.5 percent of the sunlight hitting them.
It could still be helpful, however, as solar panels typically produce up to 25 percent less electricity when the sun is in hiding. The solar panel could have greater potential in areas seeing greater rain accumulation.
“All-weather solar cells are promising in solving the energy crisis,” the researchers wrote in the study published in the journal Angewandte Chemie.
The search for renewable fuels to reduce fossil fuel dependence continues. Petrochemicals, for instance, fuel much of the industrial systems in the world, yet have been taking a huge toll on the environment and climate. This prompted scientists in Denmark to employ reverse photosynthesis to revolutionize these chemical fuels’ production.
In early April, researchers at Texas A&M University identified an enzyme found in common green microalgae that triggers hydrocarbon production, showing promise in the creation of new, better biofuels.