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New Solar Cell Design Generates and Stores Energy

Solar PV panels are great at generating clean, renewable electricity from the sun’s rays, but one major drawback for them is that without an additional system to store that energy and release it on demand, they are only as useful as the reliability of the grid they are connected to.

But a breakthrough at the University of Wisconsin may begin to change the way we design and implement solar panels, with a new solar cell design that can not only generate electricity, but can also store it for later use.

The new technology is an offshoot of a project working on an entirely different problem, a self-focusing contact lens that required a unique power solution that would fit in a small form factor. To meet that need, Hongrui Jiang, electrical and computer engineering professor at UW-Madison, and his team developed the design for a combination energy harvesting, storage, and supply device, and it could have huge implications in the solar industry as it gets refined.

“The top layer of each photovoltaic cell is a conventional photo electrode, converting sunlight into electrons. During that conversion process, the electrons split off into two directions: most electrons flow out of the device to support a power load, while some are directed to a polyvinylidene fluoride polymer (PVDF) coated on zinc oxide nanowires. The PVDF has the high dielectric constant required to serve as an energy storage solution.”

While the team’s design has only reached a 4% efficiency rate, they are aiming to develop a full-sized solar cell that would be able to create a closed-loop solar power system that could be used for small-scale applications.

“Since the design scales up easily, says Jiang, microgrids — small scale power grids used to balance renewable power sources in energy-efficient buildings — would be another ideal application, since self-contained solar panels would limit the need for battery management and would allow engineers to design buildings that rely on the outside power grid even less than current systems.” – UW-Madison

The results of the team’s work is published in Advanced Materials: Dye-Sensitized Solar Cell with Energy Storage Function through PVDF/ZnO Nanocomposite Counter Electrode

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