Water-gel-based ‘artificial leaves’ to generate Electricity
A team led by a North Carolina State University researcher has shown that water-gel-based solar devices ‘artificial leaves’ can act like solar cells to produce electricity. This was done so as to reduce the cost and the use of the toxic materials in the solar cell, which would be more eco – friendly than the other solar cells.This artificial leaf is based on the same principles and phenomenon that the natural Leaf contains. This man made leaf is a water-gel-based having light sensitive molecules. For using this device, the research team at the initial stage used the natural chlorophyll for the experiment. The light-sensitive molecules with electrodes are coated in carbon nanotubes or graphite and gets infused with the water-gel-based device. When this device is exposed to the sun the light-sensitive molecules reacts just like the plants when the chlorophyll converts the solar energy into sugar. The research team hopes to mimic how the nature harnesses solar energy by avoiding the use of synthetic light-sensitive molecules and concentrating instead on naturally derived products – like chlorophyll – which are easily integrated into the water-gel matrix devices. Orlin Velev, Invista Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering also adds that, the research team hopes and imagines a future where home roofs will be covered with soft electric sheet of artificial leaf solar cells.
However, they believe that the concept of biologically inspired soft devices for generating electricity may in the future provide an alternative to the present technologies..The devices are still of relatively low efficiency and there is a long way to go before this can become a practical .With the successful demonstration of this device, they have proven the concept. The challenges researchers face fine-tunes will be ‘the water-based photovoltaic devices, which will make them even more like real leaves’. The other challenge is to ‘change the water-based gel and light-sensitive molecules to improve the efficiency of the solar cells’.