Scientists create solar cell that works like a leaf

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Scientists at the University of Sydney in Australia have created molecules that mimic those in plants which harvest light. “A leaf is an amazingly cheap and efficient solar cell,” says Dr Deanna D’Alessandro, a postdoctoral researcher in the Molecular Electronics Group at the University of Sydney. “The best leaves can harvest 30 to 40 percent of the light falling on them. The best solar cells we can build are between 15 and 20 percent efficient, and expensive to make. We’ve recreated some of the key systems that plants use in photosynthesis,” says Deanna.

Bacteria and green plants use photosynthesis to convert light energy into usable chemical energy, a process that can be copied to generate electrical energy. “Since they are so efficient at storing energy, we think they could also be used as batteries – replacing the metal-based batteries that our high technology devices depend on today,” Deanna says.

This development is part of the science known as biomimicry, acknowledging that nature has far more design experience than humans have and copying natural systems to make our technology more efficient. Using this research, it may be possible in the future to ‘grow’ solar cells as easily as we grow plants today, without the toxic chemicals associated with conventional PV panel construction.

Better solar power – What’s Next in Science & Technology

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Steve holds a degree in Environmental Engineering Technology from Humber College in Toronto, is a LEED Accredited Professional and a Certified Sustainable Building Advisor. He currently lives in Victoria BC and works as a green building consultant specializing in residential projects.

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