Plants transform the sun’s energy into food that provides a foundation for life quite naturally. Humans currently get much of their energy from dirty, polluting habits, but this could be about to change. Inventors at Ohio State University have developed what they call the “world’s first solar battery” which runs on light and air.
It is both a solar cell and a rechargeable battery that is contained in a patent-pending, hybrid device.
In the October 3, 2014 issue of the journal Nature Communications, the scientists describe the breakthrough technology that allows the device to work.
The innovation is essentially a mesh solar panel, which allows air to enter the battery.
An extraordinary process for transferring electrons between the solar panel and the battery electrode transpires. Inside the device, light and oxygen enable different parts of a set of chemical reactions that then re-charge the battery.
Ohio State University will license the solar battery to the industry, and Yiying Wu, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at OSU, hopes it will help reduce the costs of renewable energy.
“The state of the art is to use a solar panel to capture the light, and then use a cheap battery to store the energy,” Wu said. “We’ve integrated both functions into one device. Any time you can do that, you reduce cost.”
Wu suggests that his device can reduce solar energy costs by 25 percent. It will do this in part by increasing efficiency.
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Previously, inventors of solar energy faced a stubborn problem – too much electricity was being lost when electrons had to travel between a solar cell and an external battery. Typically, only 80 percent of electrons emerging from a solar cell would be captured.
With Wu’s new design, light is converted to electrons inside the battery, so nearly 100 percent of the electrons are saved.
There are many uses for solar power. Just a few include:
- Heat a home, swimming pool, or aquaculture farm.
- Run an AC, ceiling fans, or ventilation system for cooling.
- Power cars.
- Run pumps to clean water.
- Bring water to areas of extreme drought, such as California, which is responsible for growing more than 70% of the entire nation’s fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains. (Over 345 million people are currently without access to potable water for drinking, cleaning, or growing crops.)
- Charge a myriad of batteries.
- Cook food, and create electrical current for thousands of uses.
- Run 24-hour lights for greenhouses and grow-houses.
- Replace fracking, oil-spills, and other energies that pollute our air, water, and soil by depending on petroleum.
Wu’s device holds high promise for utilizing more sustainable energy sources, like the power of the sun.