North Carolina research workers show how water based ‘artificial leaf’ generates electricity

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Did you know that a North Carolina State University team has demonstrated that water gel-based solar devices (named: “artificial leaves”) can behave like solar cells to produce electricity?

The study has been published on-line inside the Journal of Materials Chemistry by Doctor. Orlin Velev, an Invista Professor of Chemical and Bio-molecular Engineering.

The studies prove the concept for making solar cells that more closely imitate nature. They also have the potential to be less expensive and more environmentally friendly than the present standard silicon based solar cells.

The bendable units are composed of water-based gel infused along with light-sensitive molecules (like plant chlorophyll) coupled with electrodes coated by carbon components, such as carbon nanotubes or graphite.

Graphene is the basic structural element of several carbon allotropes such as graphite, carbon nanotubes and fullerenes. Graphene is a 1-atom thick planar sheet of carbon atoms that are densely packed in a honeycomb crystal lattice. The name comes from graphite ene; graphite itself consists of a lot of graphene sheets piled together.

The light-sensitive molecules get “excited” by the sun’s rays to generate electricity, similar to plant molecules that get excited to synthesize sugars in order to grow.

Dr. Velev states that the research team hopes to “learn how to mimic the materials through which nature harnesses solar power.” Although manufactured light-sensitive molecules can be used, Velev says naturally derived products, like chlorophyll, are also very easily integrated in these units because of their own water-gel matrix.

Velev even imagines a future where roofs could be covered with soft sheets of similar electrical energy-generating synthetic-leaf solar cells. The concept of biochemically inspired ‘soft’ units for generating electricity may possibly in the future provide an alternative for the present-day solid-state technologies.

About the Author: C. J. Mcguire produces for the solar fountains for the garden blog, her personal hobby website focused on rules to help home owners to spend a smaller amount energy with solar energy.

Reference: Aqueous soft matter based photovoltaic devices. Journal of Materials Chemistry, 2011; DOI: