Making Solar Cells From Trees

Researchers from Georgia Institute of Technology and Purdue University have discovered how to make solar power even more eco-friendly, creating fully-recyclable organic solar cells using trees.
Organic solar polymers are usually printed onto clear plastic or glass, but the Georgia Tech team developed a cell which is fabricated using a transparent cellulose nanocrystal (CNC) substrate, made from plant matter. The resulting organic solar cell demonstrated a working efficiency level of 2.7 percent, setting a new record for raw, renewable materials. 
Although the power conversion efficiency (PCE) level of the CNC cell is very low and with a short life cycle, the team believes that by boosting the PCE even by a few percent and extending the life span of the solar cell to around five years, organic solar cells could compete with other solar technologies. 
“Our next steps will be to work toward improving the power conversion efficiency over 10 percent, levels similar to solar cells fabricated on glass or petroleum-based substrates,” says Bernard Kippelen, director of Georgia Tech’s Centre for Organic Photonics and Electronics (COPE).
“But organic solar cells must be recyclable. Otherwise we are simply solving one problem, less dependence on fossil fuels, while creating another.”
The solar cells made from CNC substrates revert to raw material when immersed in water at the end of their life cycle. 
In findings published in the journal Scientific Reports, CNCs have good mechanical properties and can be reconfigured for other purposes outside the solar industry. 
They can be made from virtually any organic matter, including wood and vegetation, at a much lower cost than petroleum-based substrates.
“The development and performance of organic substrates in solar technology continues to improve, providing engineers with a good indication of future applications,” says Kippelen.
The team has filed a provisional patent on its CNC solar cell findings.
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