Efficient and cheap solar cells for future clean energy

aprile 17, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Solar Cell

The energy that the Earth receives from the Sun in just one hour would be enough to provide power to the entire planet for a full year. All this amount of energy, clean and renewable, is not used not only because of the dependence on oil that our civilization has acquired over the years, but also because any procedure or system to harness solar power can only store a tiny fraction of the energy received, therefore they are very expensive and relatively uncommon.

For this reason, in Canada, at the Université de Québec, researchers are working on a new technology which finally allowed to create efficient and extremely cheap solar cells.

These solar cells are based on a layer of porous titanium dioxide particles, covered with a molecular dye which absorbs sunlight, basically doing the same job that chlorophyll is doing on the green leaves from our trees. Titanium dioxide is then immersed inside an electrolytic solution which is then covered with a platinum-based catalyst. In a few words, this system would work just like a normal alkaline battery, where titanium dioxide and platinum would act just like electrodes, and the electrolytic solution would be the conducting material.

Previous studies had identified some problems: the solution was extremely corrosive and dark in color, which would limit the passage of light and the efficiency, while the usage of platinum in the process was resulting in a sky-rocketing price; these problems have been solved by using a sort of gel which is transparent and non corrosive, and by replacing platinum with cobalt sulphide, a more efficient material, much less expensive to produce, which provides a much higher stability at a much lower cost.

Research makes lithium batteries live longer

aprile 17, 2010 Technology No Commenti


No one seems to realize the strain that the batteries which power our electronic devices have to withstand, especially while our MP3 players, mobile phones and gizmos become more and more powerful and demanding in terms of power needed to operate them.

Therefore, the life of normal rechargeable lithium-ion batteries is hard, and in order to significantly improve their performance, a research team from Georgia Institute of Technology is working on a new type of electrodes, made up of silicon-based composite materials.

Currently, the batteries’ electrodes are made up of graphite, and generate an electric current by transferring lithium ions between the cathode and the anode. The silicon electrodes can transfer those ions at a speed 10 times higher, thus also increasing tenfold the battery capacity, and of course the duration of a single recharge.

The problem at this stage seems to be stability of this new type of electrodes; in fact, at each charge/discharge phase, the material in the electrodes expands and contracts. If you replace a graphite particle with one of silicon of the same size, the expansion and contraction would soon end up cracking the electrode.

Researchers are working in this direction, using nanoparticles which, along with solving this problem, allow storage of a larger amount of energy in a smaller battery, thus considerably increasing (up to 10 times, as said before) a battery’s capacity and power in the same size.

In a not so distant future, the batteries of our mobile phones, for example, might get smaller and need to be recharged only once every month or two: you will finally have no trouble when you forget your battery charger at home before leaving for your holidays!


aprile: 2010
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