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Recyclable organic solar cells: a clean fuel future made possible by trees

Joseph Volpe, @jrvolpe
March 27, 2013
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You don't have to know Shel Silverstein to know that trees are exceptionally giving. They're responsible for our homes, paper, air, furniture and, now, energy -- the "clean" kind, that is. Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Purdue University have jointly devised a patent-pending method to build organic solar cells using plant-derived substrates. Known as cellulose nanocrystal substrates (or CNC), these solar cells benefit from being truly disposable, eliminating the waste that results from the use of alternative materials like petroleum or glass. The CNC-made cells are not only transparent enough to allow light to pass into an embedded semiconductor, but they also dissolve when submerged into water, thus earning the esteemed recyclable distinction.

Although this is undoubtedly a breakthrough for clean energy tech, it's by no means a near-future reality. Apparently, current cells can only yield a 2.7-percent conversion efficiency rate, which falls far below the 10-percent threshold met by rival fabrication methods (i.e., petroleum and glass). So, there's still significant work to be done before the team can improve production and achieve parity with those less "recyclable" options. Until that time, consider this a comforting reassurance that a clean fuel era is well within reach.

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