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Nanomaterials That Can Assemble Themselves Could Advance Solar Panel Tech

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Researchers at the City University of New York have developed nanomaterials that promise to revolutionize the harvest of solar energy.

According to a new paper, the nanomaterials were developed using a process called singlet fission that improves and extend the harvestable light-generated electrons, theoretically increasing the efficiency of solar cells from 33 percent to 44 percent.

"We modified some of the molecules in commonly used industrial dyes to create self-assembling materials that facilitate a greater yield of harvestable electrons and extend the electrons' excited-state lifetimes, giving us more time to collect them in a solar cell," stated Andrew Levine, the lead author of the new paper and a student at CUNY.

The details of the new materials were published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry.

More Efficient Harvest Of Energy

The researchers used different types of commonly used industrial dyes, diketopyrrolopyrrole (DPP) and rylene, to create six superstructures with self-assembling capabilities. According to the researchers, each had combinations that had slight differences in geometry that determine the yield and lifetime of harvestable electrons.

"This work provides us with a library of nanomaterials that we can study for harvesting solar energy," explained Adam Braunschweig, an associate professor at the university and the lead researcher of the study. "Our method for combining the dyes into functional materials using self-assembly means we can carefully tune their properties and increase the efficiency of the critical light-harvesting process."

Self-Assembling Could Make Way For More Affordable Solar Energy

With the negative impacts of climate change beginning to manifest around the world, the public is becoming more and more conscious about clean energy sources such as wind and solar power. In the United States, the energy generated through solar power alone has grown more than 17 times since 2008, enough to provide electricity to about 5.7 million homes.

The researchers believe that the self-assembling abilities of the new materials can shorten the time needed to create commercially viable solar cells. The new materials are also more affordable compared to the current fabrication methods.

The team will continue to develop the technology. Now that they have improved the energy harvested, the next step is to figure out a way to capture all the energy produced.

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