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Self-repairing solar cells could also fix our energy dependency

Tim Stevens
September 7, 2010
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It doesn't take much for a photovoltaic cell to not work quite as well as it used to. Sure, a big hail storm or the like will do a number on your megabucks rooftop installation, but the sun itself, the very thing those cells are designed to capture, gradually damages their internals, reducing efficiency. The fix, according to a team at MIT, is self-assembling (and therefore self-repairing) solar cells made up of a synthetic molecular soup containing phospholipids that, when mixed with a solution, attach themselves to a series of carbon nanotubes for alignment. Other molecules that react with light then attach to the phospholipids and, with a little illumination, start firing out electrons like mad. After a few hours of solar pummeling the whole thing can be broken down and automatically re-created, returning efficiency to maximum. Overall efficiency of the system is extremely low currently, thanks to a low concentration of those photon-catching structures, but individually they capture about 40 percent of the light's energy, meaning a higher concentration could make for very hearty soup indeed.

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