Researchers create solar cells from trees

Think solar energy is clean? Researchers want to make it cleaner.

Earlier this year, the Associated Press reported on the solar industry's hazardous waste problem, showing that -- while less dirty than coal and natural gas -- the industry produces millions of pounds of toxic sludge in the United States alone. But now researchers have come up with a way to clean up the clean energy resource.

Researchers from Georgia Institute of Technology and Purdue University -- both in the United States -- have developed solar cells that use substrates, cellulose nanocrystals, derived from plants, including trees. Essentially they've created easily recyclable solar cells. The group published details about the technology in the journal Scientific Reports.

These "organic solar cells" had a power conversion efficiency of 2.7 percent, a low number -- considering that 16 percent is the peak for solar panels on the market -- but for solar cells that are derived from renewable raw materials, it's "an unprecedented figure," according to the researchers.

“The development and performance of organic substrates in solar technology continues to improve, providing engineers with a good indication of future applications,” said Georgia Tech College of Engineering Professor Bernard Kippelen in a press release. “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.”

The next steps for the researchers? Working to make the solar cell more efficient, aiming for a power conversion efficiency of 10 percent.

Dig deep into the technology behind organic solar cells.

Photo: Flickr/Frank Wuestefeld

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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