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Artificial leaves create real solar power


At North Carolina State University a water-gel-based solar device has been created which mimics photosynthesis in order to create energy. The “artificial leaves” act as solar cells to make electricity.

This development is one step closer to actually recreating nature’s way of harnessing energy from the sun. According to the researchers in the online Journal of Materials Chemistry, they have the potential to be cheaper and more environmentally friendly than the silicon-based solar cells which are popular today.

The devices are filled with water-based gel infused with light-sensitive molecules. The researchers even experimented with filling the cells with chlorophyll. The light sensitive molecules are activated by the sun’s rays and produce harnessable electricity.

Dr. Orlin Velev, Invista Professor of Chemical and Bimolecular Engineering says they hope to “learn how to mimic the materials by which nature harnesses solar energy.” Obviously, we are working now with synthetic materials to capture energy, but a naturally derived product would be better. Chlorophyll could suspend in the water-based gel product used in this research. If chlorophyll could be used or recreated it would be far superior and herald the next generation of solar energy technology.

Since the researchers have proved it works, now it’s time to fine tune it and try to make something that really operates like a plant. “The next step is to mimic the self-regenerating mechanisms found in plants,” Velev said. “The other challenge is to change the water-based gel and light-sensitive molecules to improve the efficiency of the solar cells.”

Because right now, they don’t produce very much energy. But you have to start somewhere and this breakthrough is very promising. Rooftops covered with soft cells which can curve and regenerate naturally. Velev summed up, “We believe that the concept of biologically inspired ‘soft’ deices for generating electricity may in the future provide an alternative for the present-day solid-state technologies.”

Source: North Carolina State University, Science Daily


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