Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Trees used to create recyclable, efficient solar cell

Date:
March 26, 2013
Source:
Georgia Institute of Technology
Summary:
Researchers have developed efficient solar cells using natural substrates derived from plants such as trees. Just as importantly, by fabricating them on cellulose nanocrystal (CNC) substrates, the solar cells can be quickly recycled in water at the end of their lifecycle.

Photograph of a solar cell fabricated at Georgia Tech on nanocellulose substrates derived from trees.
Credit: Canek Fuentes-Hernandez, Georgia Tech

Solar cells are just like leaves, capturing the sunlight and turning it into energy. It's fitting that they can now be made partially from trees.

Georgia Institute of Technology and Purdue University researchers have developed efficient solar cells using natural substrates derived from plants such as trees. Just as importantly, by fabricating them on cellulose nanocrystal (CNC) substrates, the solar cells can be quickly recycled in water at the end of their lifecycle.

The technology is published in the journal Scientific Reports, the latest open-access journal from the Nature Publishing Group.

The researchers report that the organic solar cells reach a power conversion efficiency of 2.7 percent, an unprecedented figure for cells on substrates derived from renewable raw materials. The CNC substrates on which the solar cells are fabricated are optically transparent, enabling light to pass through them before being absorbed by a very thin layer of an organic semiconductor. During the recycling process, the solar cells are simply immersed in water at room temperature. Within only minutes, the CNC substrate dissolves and the solar cell can be separated easily into its major components.

Georgia Tech College of Engineering Professor Bernard Kippelen led the study and says his team's project opens the door for a truly recyclable, sustainable and renewable solar cell technology.

"The development and performance of organic substrates in solar technology continues to improve, providing engineers with a good indication of future applications," said Kippelen, who is also 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."

To date, organic solar cells have been typically fabricated on glass or plastic. Neither is easily recyclable, and petroleum-based substrates are not very eco-friendly. For instance, if cells fabricated on glass were to break during manufacturing or installation, the useless materials would be difficult to dispose of. Paper substrates are better for the environment, but have shown limited performance because of high surface roughness or porosity. However, cellulose nanomaterials made from wood are green, renewable and sustainable. The substrates have a low surface roughness of only about two nanometers.

"Our next steps will be to work toward improving the power conversion efficiency over 10 percent, levels similar to solar cells fabricated on glass or petroleum-based substrates," said Kippelen. The group plans to achieve this by optimizing the optical properties of the solar cell's electrode.

Purdue School of Materials Engineering associate professor Jeffrey Youngblood collaborated with Kippelen on the research.

A provisional patent on the technology has been filed with the U.S. Patent Office.

There's also another positive impact of using natural products to create cellulose nanomaterials. The nation's forest product industry projects that tens of millions of tons of them could be produced once large-scale production begins, potentially in the next five years.

The research is the latest project by COPE, which studies the use and development of printed electronics. Last year the center created the first-ever completely plastic solar cell.

This research was funded in part through the Center for Interface Science: Solar Electric Materials, an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences under Award Number DE-SC0001084 (Y.Z., J.S., C.F., A.D.), by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (Grant No. FA9550-09-1-0418) (J. H.), by the Office of Naval Research (Grant No. N00014-04-1-0313) (T.K., B.K.), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture -Forest Service (Grant No. 12-JV-11111122-098). Funding for CNC substrate processing was provided by USDA-Forest Service (Grant No. 11-JV-11111129-118) (R.J.M., J.P.Y., J.L.). The authors thank Rick Reiner and Alan Rudie from the U.S. Forest Service- Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) for providing CNC materials.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Georgia Institute of Technology. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Yinhua Zhou, Canek Fuentes-Hernandez, Talha M. Khan, Jen-Chieh Liu, James Hsu, Jae Won Shim, Amir Dindar, Jeffrey P. Youngblood, Robert J. Moon, Bernard Kippelen. Recyclable organic solar cells on cellulose nanocrystal substrates. Scientific Reports, 2013; 3 DOI: 10.1038/srep01536

Cite This Page:

Georgia Institute of Technology. "Trees used to create recyclable, efficient solar cell." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 March 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130326111958.htm>.
Georgia Institute of Technology. (2013, March 26). Trees used to create recyclable, efficient solar cell. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130326111958.htm
Georgia Institute of Technology. "Trees used to create recyclable, efficient solar cell." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130326111958.htm (accessed September 22, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Monday, September 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Will Climate Rallies Spur Change?

Will Climate Rallies Spur Change?

Newsy (Sep. 21, 2014) Organizers of the People's Climate March and other rallies taking place in 166 countries hope to move U.N. officials to action ahead of their summit. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Thousands March in NYC Over Climate Change

Thousands March in NYC Over Climate Change

AP (Sep. 21, 2014) Accompanied by drumbeats, wearing costumes and carrying signs, thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of Manhattan and other cities around the world on Sunday to urge policy makers to take action on climate change. (Sept. 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Climate Change Rally Held in India Ahead of UN Summit

Climate Change Rally Held in India Ahead of UN Summit

AFP (Sep. 20, 2014) Some 125 world leaders are expected to commit to action on climate change at a UN summit Tuesday called to inject momentum in struggling efforts to tackle global warming. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Music With Recycled Instruments at Colombia Fest

New Music With Recycled Instruments at Colombia Fest

AFP (Sep. 19, 2014) Jars, bottles, caps and even a pizza box, recovered from the trash, were the elements used by four musical groups at the "RSFEST2014 Sonorities Recycling Festival", in Colombian city of Cali. Duration: 00:49 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins