Researchers at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) have successfully created electricity-generating solar-cells with chemicals found the shells of shrimps and other crustaceans.

The materials chitin and chitosan found in crustacean shells are abundant and significantly cheaper to produce than the expensive metals such as ruthenium, which is similar to platinum, that are currently used in making nanostructured solar-cells.

For now the efficiency of solar cells made with these biomass-derived materials is low but if it can be improved they could be placed in everything from wearable chargers for tablets, phones and smartwatches, to semi-transparent films over window.

The team’s paper, Biomass-Derived Carbon Quantum Dot Sensitizers for Solid-State Nanostructured Solar Cells, has been published in the International Edition of Angewandte Chemie.

Researchers, from QMUL’s School of Engineering and Materials Science, used a process known as hydrothermal carbonization to create the carbon quantum dots from the widely and cheaply available chemicals found in crustacean shells. They then coat standard zinc oxide nanorods with the carbon quantum dots to make the solar cells.

QMUL Grown ZnO Nanorods with Coatings.  Click image for more info.

QMUL Grown ZnO Nanorods with Coatings. Click image for more info.

The performance of the devices was dependent on the functional groups found on the carbon quantum dots. The highest efficiency was obtained using a layer-by-layer coating of two different types of carbon quantum dots.

Dr Joe Briscoe, one of the researchers on the project, said: “This could be a great new way to make these versatile, quick and easy to produce solar cells from readily available, sustainable materials. Once we’ve improved their efficiency they could be used anywhere that solar cells are used now, particularly to charge the kinds of devices people carry with them every day.”

Professor Magdalena Titirici, Professor of Sustainable Materials Technology at QMUL, said: “New techniques mean that we can produce exciting new materials from organic by-products that are already easily available. Sustainable materials can be both high-tech and low-cost.”

“We’ve also used biomass, in that case algae, to make the kinds of supercapacitors that can be used to store power in consumer electronics, in defibrillators and for energy recovery in vehicles,” she added.

It is definitely a research effort that brings on a smile. Who would have imagined that chitin and chitosan, problematic chemistries found on ocean going ship’s hulls worldwide, would have a redeeming quality. On the other hand it really its a good idea as these chemistries are very adaptive, tough and strong.

Its not likely though that perovskite is going to be obsolete anytime soon.


1 Comment so far

  1. Matt Musson on March 2, 2015 9:26 AM

    Here is a link to an old article at EETIMES about using diatoms to improve efficiency in dye-sensitized solar cells at the university of Oregon.

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