Researchers at Queen Mary University of London have for the first time successfully created electricity-generating solar cells with chemicals found in the shells of shrimps and other crustaceans.
The materials chitin and chitosan found in the shells are abundant and significantly cheaper to produce than the metals currently used in making nanostructured solar-cells, the researchers say.
The researchers used a process called hydrothermal carbonization to create the carbon quantum dots (CQDs) from the widely and cheaply available chemicals found in crustacean shells. They then coated standard zinc oxide nanorods with the CQDs to make the solar cells.
Although the solar cells made with these biomass-derived materials currently are not yet energy-efficient, once this improves they could be used in a variety of gadgets. The researchers claim they could be placed in everything from wearable chargers for tablets, phones and smartwatches, to semi-transparent films over windows.
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“This could be a great new way to make these versatile, quick and easy to produce solar cells from readily available, sustainable materials,” said Dr. Joe Briscoe, one of the researchers on the project. “Once we’ve improved their efficiency they could be used anywhere that solar cells are used now, particularly to charge the kinds of devices people carry with them every day.”
Innovations in solar have been sprouting up worldwide. Late last year, the world's first public road that includes embedded solar cells opened in the town of Krommenie in the Netherlands. The crystalline silicon solar cells are encased in two layers of tempered safety glass, set in a concrete housing. The road is a bike commuter path on a special roadway outside Amsterdam, and power generated by the panels is funneled into the national energy grid.
In other solar news, a report released earlier this year by RE100 found that consumer products, manufacturing and heavy industry sectors are getting the best financial returns on solar power—the most popular renewable power technology for corporates.