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Self-Repairing Photovoltaic Cells

Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on September 23rd, 2010

Source: Environmental Research Web

Photo: Patrick Gillooly

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have fabricated the first synthetic photovoltaic cell capable of repairing itself. The cell mimics the self-repair system naturally found in plants, which capture sunlight and convert it into energy during photosynthesis. The device could be 40% efficient at converting solar power into energy – a value that is two times better than the best commercial photovoltaic cells on the market today.

During photosynthesis, plants harness solar radiation and convert it into energy. Scientists have been trying to mimic this process in synthetic materials, but this has proved difficult because the Sun’s rays damage and gradually destroy solar-cell components over time. Naturally occurring plants have developed a highly elaborate self-repair mechanism to overcome this problem that involves constantly breaking down and reassembling photodamaged light-harvesting proteins. The process ensures that these molecules are continually being refreshed, and so always work like “new”.

Michael Strano and colleagues have now succeeded in mimicking this process for the first time by creating self-assembling complexes that convert light into electricity. The complexes can be repeatedly broken down and reassembled by simply adding a surfactant (a solution of soap molecules). The researchers found that they can indefinitely cycle between assembled and disassembled states by adding and removing the surfactant, but the complexes are only photoactive in the assembled state.

Read the full article by Belle Dumé.

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