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Mar 27th, 2013
 
Solar cells fabricated on cellulose nanocrystal substrates can be recycled in water
 
Solar cells are just like leaves, capturing the sunlight and turning it into energy.
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  • The researchers report that the organic solar cells reach a power conversion efficiency of 2.7 percent

It’s fitting that they can now be made partially from trees.

Georgia Institute of Technology and Purdue University researchers have developed efficient solar cells using natural substrates derived from plants such as trees. Just as importantly, by fabricating them on cellulose nanocrystal (CNC) substrates, the solar cells can be quickly recycled in water at the end of their lifecycle.

The technology is published in the journal Scientific Reports, the latest open-access journal from the Nature Publishing Group.

The researchers report that the organic solar cells reach a power conversion efficiency of 2.7 percent, an unprecedented figure for cells on substrates derived from renewable raw materials. The CNC substrates on which the solar cells are fabricated are optically transparent, enabling light to pass through them before being absorbed by a very thin layer of an organic semiconductor. During the recycling process, the solar cells are simply immersed in water at room temperature. Within only minutes, the CNC substrate dissolves and the solar cell can be separated easily into its major components.

Georgia Tech College of Engineering Professor Bernard Kippelen led the study and says his team’s project opens the door for a truly recyclable, sustainable and renewable solar cell technology.

To date, organic solar cells have been typically fabricated on glass or plastic. Neither is easily recyclable, and petroleum-based substrates are not very eco-friendly. For instance, if cells fabricated on glass were to break during manufacturing or installation, the useless materials would be difficult to dispose of. Paper substrates are better for the environment, but have shown limited performance because of high surface roughness or porosity. However, cellulose nanomaterials made from wood are green, renewable and sustainable. The substrates have a low surface roughness of only about two nanometers.

Purdue School of Materials Engineering associate professor Jeffrey Youngblood collaborated with Kippelen on the research.

A provisional patent on the technology has been filed with the U.S. Patent Office.

 

 
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