Channeling Self Healing Solar Cells

Monday, August 12, 2013 @ 05:08 PM gHale

Creating solar cell devices with channels that mimic organic vascular systems can effectively reinvigorate solar cells whose performance deteriorates due to degradation by the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

In other words, self healing solar cells are just around the corner.

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Solar cells based on organic systems hold the potential to be less expensive and more environmentally friendly than silicon-based solar cells, the current industry standard.

The nature-mimicking devices are a type of dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs), composed of a water-based gel core, electrodes, and inexpensive, light-sensitive, organic dye molecules that capture light and generate electric current, said North Carolina State University researchers Orlin Velev and Hyung-Jun Koo, who also wrote a paper on the subject.

Because the dye molecules that get “excited” by the sun’s rays to produce electricity eventually degrade and lose efficiency, they need to undergo a replenishment to regenerate the device’s effectiveness in harnessing the power of the sun, Velev said.

“Organic material in DSSCs tends to degrade, so we looked to nature to solve the problem,” Velev said. “We considered how the branched network in a leaf maintains water and nutrient levels throughout the leaf. Our microchannel solar cell design works in a similar way. Photovoltaic cells rendered ineffective by high intensities of ultraviolet rays were regenerated by pumping fresh dye into the channels while cycling the exhausted dye out of the cell. This process restores the device’s effectiveness in producing electricity over multiple cycles.”

Velev, Invista Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at NC State and the lead author of a paper describing the research, said the new gel-microfluidic cell design ended up tested against other designs, and that branched channel networks similar to the ones found in nature worked most effectively.

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