MIT Creates Self-Assembling Solar Cells That Repair Themselves

MIT's Test Cell Patrick Gillooly, MIT via Press Release

Solar cells are intended to mimic the photosynthesis of plants -- converting light into energy in the most efficient manner possible. But what other characteristics of plants could be handy for the renewable energy sector to mimic? How about the self-assembly of chloroplast, the component of plants that do all the vital photosynthesis. Leaves repair themselves after sun damage again and again to keep up their ability to convert light into energy. Now, MIT researchers believe they've discovered how to use this self-assembly to restore solar cells damaged by the sun.Popular Science writes, "To recreate this unique regenerative ability, the MIT team devised a novel set of self-assembling molecules that use photons to shake electrons loose in the form of electricity. The system contains seven different compounds, including carbon nanotubes that provide structure and a means to conduct the electricity away from the cells, synthetic phospholipids that form discs that also provide structural support, and other molecules that self-assemble into "reaction centers" that actually interact with the incoming photons to release electrons."

These compounds can assemble themselves into structures able to harvest solar energy at an efficiency of about 40%. As they loose efficiency from damage, a surfacant can be spread across them to break down the compounds, then when it is filtered out, the cells reassemble good as new. The researchers think they can eventually boost the efficiency even higher, and perhaps provide solar cells that are virtually indestructible.

MIT is constantly coming out with new possibilities for the solar industry, from solar concentrators that improve both efficiency and designs, to printing thin film solar cells on paper. And now, perhaps, solar cells that bring us even closer to completely mimicking leaves.

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Tags: Alternative Energy | Concepts & Prototypes | Solar Power


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