Diatoms as solar cell material


in Geek stuff, Science, The environment

Scientists in Oregon are working on a process to make solar panels with the help of single-celled marine organisms called diatoms. By providing the diatoms with titanium dioxide, rather than the silicon dioxide with which they normally make their shells, a material is produced that can be rendered photovoltaic through the application of dyes. Supposedly, this material is three times more efficient than similar dye-based thin-film cells made without the diatoms. While the resulting cells are still experimental, and more expensive than conventional thin-film dye cells, the possible efficiency gains may eventually render them more commercially viable and effective, especially in situations of relative low light.

Certainly, microorganisms are a sensible place to look if you want to be able to consistently produce precise nanoscale structures. Hopefully, techniques like this will speed the pace at which renewably generated power displaces that from fossil fuels.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

R.K. April 13, 2009 at 10:59 pm

Will vegans refuse to use such panels?

Milan April 28, 2009 at 6:27 pm

Some might.

Vegans don’t all follow the same rules about what kinds of uses of animal products they find acceptable. For instance, many implicitly support the use of artificial beehives for pollination.

. July 6, 2009 at 11:40 pm

“A team of researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, have developed a new kind of flexible solar cell that could be far cheaper to make than conventional silicon photovoltaics. The cells consist of an array of 500-nanometer-high cadmium sulfide pillars printed on top of an aluminum foil — the material surrounding the pillars absorbs light and releases electrons, while the pillars themselves transport the electrons to an electrical circuit. The closely packed pillars trap light between them, helping the surrounding material absorb more. This means the electrons also have a very short distance to travel through the pillars, so there are fewer chances of their getting trapped at defects and its possible to use low-quality, less expensive materials. ‘”You won’t know the cost until you do this using a roll-to-roll process,” says lead researchers Ali Javey. “But if you can do it, the cost could be 10 times less than what’s used to make [crystalline] silicon panels.”

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