September 7, 2010

Soapy nanotube concoction promises self-repairing solar cells

Mix together a pair of photosynthetic proteins, an artificial cell, and a carbon nanotube, repeatedly add and remove soap, and you have the makings of a self-repairing solar cell.

The natural molecular machinery that turns sunlight into electricity in plants and microorganisms evolved to repair itself from the damaging effects of the sun's rays. A synthetic molecular construct that mimics this process has the potential to extend the lifetimes and improve the efficiency of inexpensive organic and dye-sensitized solar cells.

The artificial self-repairing system is made up of lipid bilayers that collect on the surface of a carbon nanotube and form a platform for a pair of proteins that convert photons to electrons. Repeatedly introducing and removing a surfactant breaks down and reassembles the system.

Without the regeneration cycle, the amount of electricity the system produces drops by half after five hours and 80 percent after 32 hours. Adding and removing the surfactant every 32 hours restores the amount of electricity the system produces to the maximum level and extends the lifetime of the system to more than 168 hours.

Research paper:
Photoelectrochemical complexes for solar energy conversion that chemically and autonomously regenerate
Nature Chemistry, published online September 5, 2010

Researchers' contact:
Michael Strano

Related stories and briefs:
Artificial photosynthesis gets more sun -- related research
Microbe makes most of light -- related research
Algae proteins boost solar concentrators -- related research

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