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Eyeing the Sun

Located in Houston, Texas, Rice University‘s Chemistry Department has been searching for a way to build solar cells based on the model of the human retina‘s rods and cones in order to provide a cheaper and more efficient way to utilize solar power. In conjunction with Swansea University in Wales, Chemistry Department Chair Andrew R. Barron and student researchers have been coating carbon nanotubes with semiconductor particles to generate electricity using photons. Recently making advances in revolutionizing the way that solar panels are used by making them more efficient and accessible to common consumers.

Barron said his inspiration for the project was the result of an accident. While working on a way to make an artificial retina, a former graduate student was doing her research in separating nanotubes under his supervision about five years ago. A friend of his, Dennis Flood, casually suggested that they shine light on the nanotubes. They discovered that the tubes produced a weak electric current.

Barron said the solar cell was nothing more than a scaled-down version of a retina in the way it converts light into electricity. He added that most commercial solar cells are only 14 percent efficient. In theory, his retina model could achieve up to about 18-20 percent efficiency, he said. The major improvement in the retina model, however, is that it is cheaper to make by comparison and very convenient for the typical house to use, because the electrical wiring is already connected to the nanotubes, making it lighter. Most commercial cells are too heavy to be supported by a residential roof. “If you want to put solar cells on your roof, you can take a roll of solar cells that you buy at Home Depot, or you could attach a solar cell to any building,” he said.flexible-solar

“When you make solar cells, it’s a very energy-intensive process,” Barron said. The process involves heating the materials up to 800°C. However, Barron’s method takes bucky tubes, coats them onto a substrate, and then coats them in a chemical bath.

Now, Barron and his students are working on designing a capacitor to put on the ends of the nanotubes to store the charge and release it when enough is stored. This, in terms of structure, would be almost as efficient as the retina, Barron said.

Eventually, this research may also have medical applications, Barron said. Simulating the retina’s structure may also yield a full artificial retina. For those who are blind or who have degenerative eye diseases, artificial retinas would have obvious implementations.

There are no dates available for these products but we will keep an eye on it to see when they may be coming to the marketplace.

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3 Responses to “Eyeing the Sun”

  1. Says:

    Eyeing the Sun | Forced Green…

    searching for a way to build solar cells based on the model of the human retina’s rods and cones in order to provide a cheaper and more efficient way to utilize solar power…

  2. wilson Says:

    Linda, there’s a company, Space Energy Incorporated has been tried to develop the “Space-based solar power (SBSP)”, where this stuff can be placed in the middle of space and absorb the solar energy 24/7/365!

    wilsons last blog post..Mind About the Soup’s Boiling Time!

  3. Linda Says:

    Hi Wilson …. I have heard of the SBSP and it is one cool project. 🙂

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