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3D Graphene Could Boost Thin Film Solar

3D Honeycombed Graphene Could Boost Thin Film Solar

Image source: Hui Wang

Dye-sensitized solar cells are one of the up-and-coming renewable energy technologies, due to their flexibility, ease of production, and relatively low cost. But one of the materials essential to their manufacture, even if only in small amounts, is platinum, which currently costs as much as $1500 per ounce.

But a recent breakthrough by a scientist at Michigan Technological University could replace the need for platinum in dye-sensitized solar cells by using a structure made from a plentiful and inexpensive material.

Professor Yun Hang Hu and his team developed a way to inexpensively synthesize a new 3D version of graphene (a form of carbon with a honeycomb-like structure, capable of forming in layers as thin as a single molecule).

“To do so, they combined lithium oxide with carbon monoxide in a chemical reaction that forms lithium carbonate (Li2CO3) and the honeycomb graphene. The Li2CO3 helps shape the graphene sheets and isolates them from each other, preventing the formation of garden-variety graphite. Furthermore, the Li2CO3 particles can be easily removed from 3D honeycomb-structured graphene by an acid.”

The new material was found to have outstanding conductivity and catalytic activity, which hinted that it could be useful in potential energy applications. The team replaced a platinum electrode in a dye-sensitized solar cell with one made from the 3D graphene they created, and found that their version was almost as efficient as the original platinum electrode (7.8%, compared to the original cell’s 8% efficiency).

This finding may enable a whole new wave of lower-cost thin film solar cells in the future, as Professor Hu said that the process of synthesizing the new material is not difficult or expensive, and making it into electrodes “posed no special challenges.”

The study, “3D Honeycomb-Like Structured Graphene and Its High Efficiency as a Counter-Electrode Catalyst for Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells,” was coauthored by Hu, Michigan Tech grad student Hui Wang, Franklin Tao of the University of Notre Dame, Dario J. Stacchiola of Brookhaven National Laboratory, and Kai Sun of the University of Michigan, was published in Angewandte Chemie.

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