Printable Solar PV One Step Closer By Mimicking Nature
I'm waiting for the day I pop open my RSS feed and see 'Free Energy - Environmentally Enriching Solar PV System to be Distributed to Anyone Who Wants One'. But today was not that day. Instead something almost as exciting arrived, Somenath Mitra, PhD, professor and acting chair of Chemistry and Environmental Sciences at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) (Pictured) has led a group in developing a 'A fullerene–single wall carbon nanotube complex for polymer bulk heterojunction photovoltaic cells' - I know...cool huh? Basically, the team developed a unique molecule made out of carbon nanotubes and buckyballs that can go inside organic solar cells. Now, I enjoy buckyball and nanotube papers about as much as a person possibly can (for e.g. see here, here,here or here). I admit, we (society) don't really know much about nanotube or buckyball health impacts, nor are the little buggers cheap. We (society again) need to seriously consider the materials we choose to use for our mass produced items. But what I do like is how the research group is mimicking nature (in the general design if not the materials). In this case the buckyballs fill in for chlorophyll, and the nanotubes fill in for the quantum transfer of energy. By associating the buckyball closely with the nanotube it mimics the capture and transfer system found in the photosystems of plants. This design has the potential to increase the efficiency of organic solar cells, and possible dye sensitized cells as well. As I have mentioned before - the ability to control materials at the molecular level is key to our future development of technology. Although this system is not as incredibly efficient as a plants photosystem, nor is it as nutritional, the research is an excellent example of why developing techniques to assemble at the nano-scale can change the world. Now we just need to think about how to store, and use all that tasty solar energy we capture. I wonder how plants do that stuff too?