Prawn shells could hold the answer to cheap solar cell materials

Materials found in the shells of prawns and other crustaceans may become a cheap and plentiful components of electricity-generating solar cells.

Researchers  at Queen Mary University of London’s School of Engineering and Materials Science, used a process known as hydrothermal carbonisation to create the carbon quantum dots (CQDs) from chitin and chitosan found in crustacean shells. They then coated standard zinc oxide nanorods with the CQDs to make the solar cells.

Chitin is a naturally occurring polymer in the world. Chitosan is a polysaccharide with a range of commercial uses including as a fining agent in winemaking and as a fungicide.

The materials are significantly cheaper to produce than expensive metals, such as ruthenium, which is similar to platinum, that are currently used in making nanostructured solar-cells.

Currently the efficiency of solar cells made with these biomass-derived materials is low but if it can be improved they could be placed in everything from wearable chargers for tablets, phones and smartwatches, to semi-transparent films over window.

Dr Joe Briscoe, one of the researchers on the project, said: “This could be a great new way to make these versatile, quick and easy to produce solar cells from readily available, sustainable materials. Once we’ve improved their efficiency they could be used anywhere that solar cells are used now, particularly to charge the kinds of devices people carry with them every day.

Research into alternatives to silicon for use in collar cells is making rapid advances, as we investigate today.

H/T IFL Science

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