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North Carolina experts demonstrate how water based 'artificial leaf' generates electricity

By Colleen Mcguire - September 30, 2010

Are you aware that a North Carolina State University team has shown that water gel-based solar devices (called: "artificial leaves") can work like solar cells to generate electricity?

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

The conclusions prove the concept for making solar cells that more closely copy nature. They also have the possibility to be more affordable and more environmentally friendly than the existing standard silicon based solar cells. The bendable products are composed of water-based gel infused along with light-sensitive molecules (like plant chlorophyll) coupled with electrodes coated by carbon elements, such as carbon nanotubes or graphite.

Graphene is the fundamental structural element of several carbon allotropes such as graphite, carbon nanotubes and fullerenes. Graphene is a one-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 many graphene sheets piled together.

The light-sensitive molecules get "excited" by the sun's rays to make electricity, similar to plant molecules that get excited to synthesize sugar in order to grow.

Dr. Velev says that the analysis team hopes to "learn how to imitate the materials through which nature harnesses solar power." Although manufactured light-sensitive molecules can be used, Velev says naturally produced products, like chlorophyll, are also effortlessly integrated in these devices because of their water-gel matrix.

Velev even imagines a future where homes could be covered with soft sheets of similar electrical power-generating artificial-leaf photo voltaic cells. The concept of biochemically inspired 'soft' products for generating electricity may in the future supply an alternative for the present-day solid-state technologies.

About the Author: Colleen Mcguire produces for the solar fountains reviews blog, her personal hobby website focused on rules to help property owners to spend less energy with solar energy.

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

User Comments

By EVFuture Admin on 30 09, 2010

This sounds interesting, let's see how long it takes for this to come to the marketplace...

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