A team of biologists and engineers from the University of Surrey, UK, developed a new device that could be used to build more efficient solar panels, according to a study published in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science. Taking inspiration from nature and plants, the authors built nanoparticles that mimic what chlorophyll (the green pigment in plants) can do in plants: absorb light and convert it to energy.
This approach has been attempted in the past, but never to match what plants can do. The main problem has been that the efficiency of pigments that absorb light decreases when they’re tightly packed.
In this new study, the authors developed a unique synthetic pigment that maintains its fluorescent intensity for much longer. “Mother Nature can teach us so much as we all think of ways to nurse our planet back to health. In this study, we looked at how light is absorbed, enhanced, and utilised in biological systems, and we have incorporated those mechanisms into our own hybrid devices,” said Michael Spencer, lead author of the study and Ph.D. student at the University of Surrey. “The performance of our device gives us hope that the solar panels of the future can ditch the use of toxic materials currently used to maintain their intensity.”
The new method developed by the UK researchers uses nanoparticles as a substrate for light absorbers. This approach shows increased efficiency (under specific conditions) and provides a controlled way to progress research and ultimately implement high-efficiency artificial light converters.
“Solar panels are a crucial part of our journey towards net-zero carbon; we need to think outside of the box if future high-efficiency solar panels are to meet their full potential. The creative thinking exhibited by this team is exactly what is needed to make sure solar meets and exceeds expectations. The deployment of solar technologies can happen decades faster than nuclear at present, and even in the UK, solar electricity generation costs are much cheaper,” added Professor Ravi Silva, Director of the Advanced Technology Institute at the University of Surrey.
The study was funded by the Leverhulme Trust. The work was produced by Surrey University’s Advanced Technology Institute and Quantum Biology Doctoral Training Centre.
Spencer, M. G., et al. (2022) Resonant quenching of photoluminescence in porphyrin-nanocarbon agglomerates. Cell Reports Physical Science doi:10.1016/j.xcrp.2022.100916.