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Stanford Researchers Make First All-Carbon Solar Cell

All-carbon solar cell

We’ve talked before about the costly materials used to make solar cells, perhaps the biggest reason photovoltaic products have not caught on big time in the market just yet. Fortunately, a group of Stanford University scientists have built the first solar cell made entirely of carbon, which may be a promising alternative to the current options available.

“Carbon has the potential to deliver high performance at a low cost,” said Zhenan Bao, senior study author and a professor of chemical engineering at Stanford. “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of a working solar cell that has all of the components made of carbon. This study builds on previous work done in our lab.”

This thin film prototype is a whole new ballgame compared to the rigid silicon panels placed on roofs. They are made of carbon materials that can be coated from solution, meaning that in the future, flexible carbon solar cells could painted on buildings and windows, or even coat cars to generate electricity. This technique would reduce manufacturing costs and cut down on the amount of tools and machines needed to install them.

The carbon solar cell is made of a photoactive layer that absorbs sunlight, which is placed in between two electrodes. The electrodes are made of graphene and single-walled carbon nanotubes, which allows for a thinner, more flexible panel than those previously made of silver and other elements. Soccer ball-shaped carbon molecules were used for the active layer. The team has also filed a patent for the device, which is made of carbon materials in every aspect.

The downside is that the prototype is that it it mostly absorbs near-infrared light wavelengths, which contributes to a weak 1% lab efficiency. Clearly, there is a lot of work to be done, but the fact that the materials and technique work is a huge step in the right direction.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could actually stick a thin, flexible film on your car or windows to take advantage of the power of our natural resources? With progress like this, it’s definitely not unthinkable for the not-too-distant future. This is just the research we need to make solar energy more common and attainable.

Image: Bao group, Stanford University

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