I think we can all agree that solar power is one of the most sustainable and affordable energy sources right now...am I right?
Even more fascinating is that, apart from being generally cheap, solar panels have even cheaper options that could help you cut costs. One such example is carbon-based solar cells, which is proving to be a more efficient and cost-effective option over its contemporary, silicon photovoltaic cells. This article will discuss how carbon-based cells work and how they compare versus silicon cells.
Carbon-based solar panel cells
Right now, solar power is feted as the best renewable energy solution available right now, thanks to its several benefits, including cost efficiency and effectivity. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that there have been several efforts to progress in this industry by producing solar-efficient devices, from cell phone chargers to roads.
Ironically, one of the things that the industry hasn't cracked yet is the creation of a more light-absorbent solar panel. This is where carbon-based solar cells would come in.
Where solar panels are right now
Right now, the most commonly used type of solar panels is silicon-based solar cells, which are manufactured in China and Taiwan. Interestingly, however, silicon is only used because it’s easier to use, not necessarily because it’s the best option for optimal light absorption. And because pure silicon is expensive and can pose a disposal challenge, it’s the primary reason why solar power remains to be an attractive option for energy generation on a large scale.
Sometimes, scientists could use other substances like ruthenium, which is cheaper but rarer. As such, scientists have begun to explore carbon-based cells, as carbon is an abundant element and can be used for mass production.
How graphene-based solar cells work
Several studies have found that carbon is indeed an excellent option for photovoltaic cells and can be used for the next generation of solar panels. Scientists have found that graphene, a type of carbon structure in which the atoms lie in thin sheets of hexagons, has intrinsic properties that allow it to absorb light better.
A study from Stanford University, for example, also found that carbon sources can be found in renewable sources. This means there’s no need to mine the earth for carbon, and that carbon-based solar cells are much easier to dispose of or recycle.
Areas for further study
However, this discovery is not without hitch. While graphene-based solar cells absorb a wide range of light frequencies, scientists need to use large sheets of graphene, thus making it unmanageable to work with. These large sheets are very sticky and also get attached to the other sheets. As such, chemists and engineers are trying to work out a solution for a stickiness of the graphene. For now, the best way has been to break down the graphite top-down into sheets and then wrap polymers all over them.
Another issue is efficiency, as Stanford found that graphene-based solar cells’ conversion efficiency peak at 0.46 percent, while organic solar cells fall just below 10 percent efficiency. Some of the most advanced crystal silicon cells can top 25 percent.
This means there’s still long ways to go to maximize their conversion efficiency. Regardless, there is hope, as chemist Liang-shi Li from Indiana University says: ”Our own interest [in solar power] stems from the need to find … readily available material which can proficiently absorb sunlight. At the moment, the most well-known materials used in absorbing the light in solar cells are silicon and compounds that contain ruthenium.”