New recyclable solar cells made from trees

Georgia Tech CNC solar cell

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Purdue University have come up with a new type of organic solar cell made out of wood. Their new thin film cells are made out of cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) which they make using softwood from trees.

Most organic solar cells are built using either glass or plastic as the substrate.  Neither plastic nor glass is easily recyclable, and they’re difficult to manage (glass panels can easily break).  But these CNC cells can be recycled simply by dissolving them in water.

“The development and performance of organic substrates in solar technology continues to improve, providing engineers with a good indication of future applications,” said Professor Bernard Kippelen, the director of Georgia Tech’s Center for Organic Photonics and Electronics (COPE).  “But organic solar cells must be recyclable. Otherwise we are simply solving one problem, less dependence on fossil fuels, while creating another, a technology that produces energy from renewable sources but is not disposable at the end of its lifecycle.”

Right now these wood based solar cells have hit an efficiency level of 2.7%, which doesn’t sound like all that much, but represents a leap over other recyclable paper based cells.   They’re now working to improve the efficiency to the 10% level, by optimizing the “optical properties of the solar cell’s electrode.”  They also plan on coating their cells with an “eco-friendly, thin environmental barrier coating to protect the cells from water and oxygen when operating in the field.”

via: Georgia Tech

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