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USC Suggests Economical Use of Graphene Photovoltaics

Can you imagine people powering their cell phone or music/video device while jogging under the sun?

A University of Southern California research team has produced flexible transparent carbon atom films that may have great potential for a brand new variety of solar cells.

In a paper recently published by the journal ACS Nano, researchers stated that organic photovoltaic (OPV) cells have been proposed as a method to achieve affordable energy due to their ease of manufacture, light weight, and compatibility with flexible substrates.

The new work indicates that graphene, a highly conductive and highly transparent type of carbon consisting of atoms-thick sheets of carbon atoms, has high potential to fill this role.

While graphene's existence has been known for many years, it has only been studied extensively since 2004 because of the difficulty of manufacturing it in high quality and quantity.

The University of southern California team has produced graphene/polymer sheets ranging in sizes approximately 150 square centimeters that in turn can be used to create dense arrays of flexible organic photovoltaic (OPV) cells.

These organic photovoltaic (OPV) devices convert solar radiation to electricity, but not as efficiently as silicon cells.

The power provided by sunlight on a sunny day is around 1,000 watts per meter square, for every 1,000 watts of sunlight that hits a square meter area of the standard silicon solar cell, 14 watts of electricity will be generated, Organic solar cells are less efficient; their conversion rate for that same 1,000 watts of sunlight in the graphene-based solar cell would be only 1.3 watts.

But what graphene organic photovoltaic (OPV) lack in efficiency, can potentially be compensated by its lower price and, greater physical flexibility.

Researchers think it may eventually be possible to cover with inexpensive solar cell layers extensive areas like newspapers, magazines or power generating clothing.

In the meanwhile Prof. Ruoff and his colleagues of the mechanical engineering department at the University of Texas at Austin, are studying the basic science in the development of graphene-based ultracapacitors for usage in electronics and various fields.

Prof. Ruoff says batteries are relatively slow, they can store energy but require sometime to charge up, and then they distribute energy slowly, over time.

Ultracapacitors can be charged very quickly, within seconds, and discharge in a short time, but, right now, they're not able to store very much electrical energy.

The introduction of stable and cheaper ultracapacitors could be a key step in using wind or solar-generated power, especially if researchers can discover methods to enable capacitors to store energy longer, that is not yet possible.

Even with their current storage capacity, the graphene devices could provide quick energy when needed in certain situations on the eco-friendly way.

They could be used, for instance, to absorb the heat generated in braking a car or train, and store it for a short time, and then employ it for the electrical needs of the vehicle (i.e. starting the auto or acceleration).

About the Author - Sophia H. Walker writes for the solar panel battery charger blog, her personal hobby web log focused on tips to help people save electricity using solar energy for small accessories.

Sophia H. Walker
Wed, 28 Jul 2010 15:59:02 +0000

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