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Researchers Create Recyclable Solar Cells Made from Trees

A new type of solar cell has been created by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Purdue University from natural substances derived from trees, yielding an efficient device that is also recyclable.

Previous attempts at developing organic solar cells used glass or plastic as the substrate, which are not simple to recycle once used.

“Organic solar cells must be recyclable. Otherwise we are simply solving one problem, less dependence on fossil fuels, while creating another, a technology that produces energy from renewable sources but is not disposable at the end of its lifecycle.” – Bernard Kippelen, Georgia Tech College of Engineering Professor

These new cells, however, are produced by fabricating them on optically transparent cellulose nanocrystal substrates, which can be derived from plant materials, making them more sustainable for both production and end-of-life.

The substrates let light pass through to an organic semiconductor, where it is absorbed and converted to electricity. Once these new types of cells reach their maximum lifespan, the materials can be separated and recycled just by using water.

The current prototype cells have only a 2.7% efficiency rate, which is still a far cry from other organic solar cell technology, but researchers hope to improve the power conversion efficiency to over 10%, which would put them on par with the other versions.

Because access to renewable materials such as trees and other plant matter is abundant, once the efficiency of these cells has improved to the point of commercial production, these recyclable solar cells could be just the thing for a greener and cleaner solar industry.

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