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Solar Power Breakthrough At Massey University

By Carolyn E. Price     Apr 9, 2007 in Technology
New solar cells have been developed at Massey University that don't need to be in direct sunlight to operate. They use a 'patented range of dyes' that can be infused into roofing materials, window glass and eventually even clothing to produce power.
What does this mean for you? It means that one day, it will be possible for your teenage to wear a jacket that will recharge their cellphones, iPods and other battery-driven devices. Just think, your daughter can now talk for six days straight on her cell phone and never have to recharge! It means that one day you will be able to put a roof on your house that will be capable of generating its own electricity and powering your electrical appliances. It could mean, that one day, you could charge your car up through its tint-dyed windows.
Massy University developed this breakthrough in its Nanomaterials Research Centre and is saying that it is already attracting world-wide interest - particularly from Australia and Japan.
Researchers at the centre have developed a range of synthetic dyes from simple organic compounds closely related to those found in nature, where light-harvesting pigments are used by plants for photosynthesis.
"This is a proof-of-concept cell," said researcher Wayne Campbell, pointing to a desktop demonstration model. "Within two to three years we will have developed a prototype for real applications. The technology could be sold off already, but it would be a shame to get rid of it now."
The key to this working is a synthetic dye's ability to pass on the energy that reaches them, something that coloured water is not capable of doing. "We now have the most efficient porphyrin dye in the world," said the centre's director, Ashton Partridge. "It is the most efficient ever made. While others are doing related work, in this aspect we are the world leaders."
It has taken the team about about 10 years to develop the dye and the project has been funded by the Royal Society of New Zealand for fundamental work and the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology in the later stages.
Now the team is looking for more funding in order to go commercial. "This particular technology does not require the large infrastructure required for silicon chips and the like," said Professor Partridge. "It lends itself to being taken up by local and New Zealand industries."
Other dyes that they are testing in the solar cells are based on haemoglobin, the compound that gives blood its color. Dr Campbell reports that the dye- based cells are unique because unlike silicone-based solar cells, they are able to operate in low-light conditions, which makes them ideal for the more cloudy climates.
Because the dyes are made from titanium dioxide, they are also more environmentally friendly. Titanium dioxide is an abundant and non-toxic, white mineral that can be extracted from New Zealand's black sand and is it already used in consumer products like toothpaste, white paints and cosmetics.
"The refining of silicon, although a very abundant mineral, is energy- hungry and very expensive," Dr. Campbell said.
The next step in the process is to take the dyes and incorporate them into commercial ventures like roofing materials, tinted window glass and wall panels where they could generate electricity for home owners. The aim is to develop solar cells that can convert as much sunlight as possible into electricity.
"The energy that reaches Earth from sunlight in one hour is more than that used by all human activities in one year."
What an absolutely profound statement. If we could just develop more technologies that could harness just a fraction of that 'sunlight energy' just think how much crap we could avoid sending into our atmosphere. Incredible when you really think about it.
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