Engineering News

Could The Carbon Emissions Crisis Be Solved With Solar Cells Made Of Carbon?
10/31/12 @ 5:38 pm

An intriguing development out of Stanford today. Zhenan Bao, professor of chemical engineering at the University reports, “The first demonstration of a working solar cell that has all of the components made of carbon.”

Unlike conventional solar cells that are primarily made out of ridged silicon and use rare metals for conductors, the cells made by Bao’s group use flexible and inexpensive carbon materials for all of the parts. The required manufacturing process involves precision nanotechnology, but is far simpler than with conventional solar cells and there is even the possibility of “flexible carbon solar cells are coated on the surface of buildings, on windows or on cars to generate electricity,” says Bao.

The biggest problem right now, as is often the case in the development of solar cells, is efficiency. At present, the cells are only 1% efficient, as opposed to an average efficiency of 15% for Typical solar panels. But bao thinks improved manufacturing techniques and nano-materials can improve the efficiency dramatically. ”Materials made of carbon are very robust,” Bao adds. “They remain stable in air temperatures of nearly 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit.” The ability of the materials to be applied to a variety of surfaces in a wide range of conditions could also offset efficiency issues as well.

Bao’s career was touched by scandal a decade ago when her co-authorship with Jan Hendrik Schön was investigated after his ”apparent breakthroughs with semiconductors that were later discovered to be fraudulent,” according to Wikipedia. She was fully exonerated in the investigation and there is no suggestion of anything improper with her current work.

It would be a wonderful irony if one of the methods that helped the world solve the crisis of carbon emissions made use of carbon itself.

Source: Dow Jones Newswires

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