Washington: North Carolina State University researchers have shown that water-gel-based “artificial leaves” can act like solar cells to produce electricity.
They also have the potential to be less expensive and more environmentally friendly than the current silicon-based solar cells.
The researchers used plant chlorophyll in one of the experiments – coupled with electrodes coated by carbon materials, such as carbon nanotubes or graphite.
The light-sensitive molecules get “excited” by the sun’s rays to produce electricity, similar to plant molecules that get excited to synthesize sugars in order to grow, said NC State’s Dr Orlin Velev.
Now that they’ve proven the concept, Velev says the researchers will work to fine-tune the water-based photovoltaic devices, making them even more like real leaves.
“The other challenge is to change the water-based gel and light-sensitive molecules to improve the efficiency of the solar cells,” Velev said.
“We believe that the concept of biologically inspired ‘soft’ devices for generating electricity may in the future provide an alternative for the present-day solid-state technologies.”
The study has been published online in the Journal of Materials Chemistry.