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Rice University’s New Cathode: Groundbreaking Development for Green Energy

More developments are being made in the name of green energy as scientists from Rice University developed a cathode that allows for better power generation while remaining cheap – cheaper than the ones currently in the market today.

Practical Application and Benefits

With this cathode, scientists can create practical solar cells capable of creating up to 18 milliamps for current for every square centimeter. That is 4 notches higher than the 14 milliamps currently generated through traditional, platinum-type cells. This can be due to the fact that the cells are significantly better when it comes to focusing sunlight and turning it into usable power. It has been estimated that this new product’s efficiency is at 8.2% while platinum types are just at 6.8%.

How It is Done

Created by scientist Jun Lou, the cathodes are a combination of graphene and nanotubes, the latter being bonded to graphene. This is done in such a way that the bond becomes seamless, creating a durable surface that outlasts platinum solar cells.

Prior successes, however, have paved the way towards the creation of the said cathodes. For example, the dye-sensitized solar cells have actually been around since 1988. They utilize dyes harvested from different sources (most commonly from raspberries) and allow them to become conductors for titanium oxide particles. This results to a power-creation process that is both clean and renewable as an iodine-type electrolyte refreshes the dye as it passes through.

Around 2009, another invention was made that ultimately contributed to today’s dye-sensitized cathode production. A chemist – Robert Hauge – managed to create nanotechnology that allows the creation of nanotubes in long bundles and aligned perfectly with each other. Dubbed as the flying carpet, this was followed by the creation of a hybrid graphene-nanotube which made it possible to prevent adhesion problems of the electrodes. Using the hybrid together with the cathode, the transfer of platinum catalysts to electrodes becomes more seamless but with the same powerful results still.

Benefits of Dye Solar Cells Over Others

The breakthrough makes it more practical to use dye-based solar cells, especially for commercial purposes. According to Pei Dong, one of the researches in the lab, dye-sensitized models come with many benefits. For one thing, they are easy to make and does not really come with many risks. In fact, they can create these dyes outside of a laboratory which decreases the danger of production as well as the total cost of the creation process. They are also incredibly efficient and capable of harvesting power even during a cloudy day. A plus is its semi-transparent state which means that unlike other solar-cells, dye-sensitized models would not look “unsightly” when placed in residential homes.

They also bear great promise for indoor use. Functioning as batteries, they can be placed inside devices where light from the room is enough to keep them constantly recharged. The result is a self-charging device that never runs out of power.

Right now, the researchers and scientists responsible for the cathode are hoping to find new and more uses for their discovery. They’re currently checking to ensure that the cathode is far from simple theory and can actually be useful in practical applications.


Image credit: Ayswaryak via Wikipedia



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