Nav: Home

Illuminating the future of renewable energy

April 13, 2020

A new chemical compound created by researchers at West Virginia University is lighting the way for renewable energy.

The compound is a photosensitizer, meaning it promotes chemical reactions in the presence of light. It has many potential applications for improving the efficiency of modern technologies ranging from electricity-producing solar panels to cell phones.

The study, published March 16 in Nature Chemistry, was conducted by researchers in Assistant Professor of Chemistry Carsten Milsmann's lab with support from his National Science Foundation CAREER Award.

These technologies currently rely on precious metals, like iridium and ruthenium, to function. However, only limited supplies of these materials remain in the world, making them nonrenewable, difficult to access and expensive.

"We noticed that there have been few efforts in studying the more abundant metals titanium and zirconium because they are often not as easy to work with. Precious metals have always been the go-to elements because of their favorable chemical properties that make them easier to use and study, and that's predominantly how it has been done in the field," Milsmann said. "We're hoping to change that."

Milsmann's compound is made from zirconium, which is much more abundant and easier to access, making it a more sustainable and cost-effective option. The compound is also stable in a variety of conditions, such as air, water and changes in temperature, making it easy to work with in a variety of environments.

Since the compound can convert light into electrical energy, it could be used in the creation of more efficient solar panels.

Solar panels are typically made using silicon and require a minimum threshold of light to collect and store energy. Instead of using silicon, researchers have long been exploring the alternative of dye-sensitized devices, in which colored molecules collect light and function in low-light conditions. As an added benefit, this also allows the production of semitransparent components. To date, the necessary dyes rely heavily on the precious material ruthenium, but Milsmann's new compound could potentially replace it in the future.

"The problem with most solar panels is that they don't work well on cloudy days. They are pretty efficient, inexpensive and have a long lifespan, but they need intense light conditions to function efficiently," Milsmann said. "One way around that is to make dye-sensitized versions where a colored compound absorbs light to produce electricity in any weather condition. In the future, we could design buildings that produce energy, essentially making the façade of your building, including all of its windows, into a power plant."

On the flipside, the compound could also be used in organic light-emitting diodes, which convert electrical energy into light, essentially reversing the function of a solar panel. This characteristic makes the compund a potential light source for producing more efficient cell phone screens.

"Many cell phone displays contain iridium, another precious metal compound that does exactly what our compound does," Milsmann said. "The advantage of having a light-emitting diode is that most of its energy is turned into light. In the past, light sources were inefficient because they only turned a small fraction of the energy they received into light."

The research team's next step is making the compound water soluble so it can potentially be used in biomedical applications, such as photodynamic therapy for cancer patients.

"The compound can produce reactive oxygen species that induce cell death. It sounds really dangerous, but because the reaction only occurs during exposure to radiation with light, its location and duration can be tightly controlled," Milsmann said. "If you can focus your light onto a specific point, you can generate reactive oxygen species to act only in response to the light, making it safe. This has the potential to remove tumors less invasively than through surgeries and chemotherapy."
-end-
The research team included WVU alumnus Yu Zhang (PhD Chemistry, '19), current graduate student Dylan Leary and Professor of Chemistry Jeffrey Petersen, among others.

"We're laying the foundations for a lot of different applications," Milsmann said. "Understanding how this compound works, which is what we did in the paper, will help people who want to bring these technologies forward."

West Virginia University

Related Renewable Energy Articles:

Intelligent software for district renewable energy management
CSEM has developed Maestro, an intelligent software application that can manage and schedule the production and use of renewable energies for an entire neighborhood.
Renewable energy transition makes dollars and sense
New UNSW research has disproved the claim that the transition to renewable electricity systems will harm the global economy.
Renewable energy advance
In order to identify materials that can improve storage technologies for fuel cells and batteries, you need to be able to visualize the actual three-dimensional structure of a particular material up close and in context.
Illuminating the future of renewable energy
A new chemical compound created by researchers at West Virginia University is lighting the way for renewable energy.
Using fiber optics to advance safe and renewable energy
Fiber optic cables, it turns out, can be incredibly useful scientific sensors.
Renewable energy developments threaten biodiverse areas
More than 2000 renewable energy facilities are built in areas of environmental significance and threaten the natural habitats of plant and animal species across the globe.
Could water solve the renewable energy storage challenge?
Seasonally pumped hydropower storage could provide an affordable way to store renewable energy over the long-term, filling a much needed gap to support the transition to renewable energy, according to a new study from IIASA scientists.
Scientists take strides towards entirely renewable energy
Researchers have made a major discovery that will make it immeasurably easier for people (or super-computers) to search for an elusive 'green bullet' catalyst that could ultimately provide entirely renewable energy.
Where to install renewable energy in US to achieve greatest benefits
A new Harvard study shows that to achieve the biggest improvements in public health and the greatest benefits from renewable energy, wind turbines should be installed in the Upper Midwest and solar power should be installed in the Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic regions.
Croissant making inspires renewable energy solution
The art of croissant making has inspired researchers from Queen Mary University of London to find a solution to a sustainable energy problem.
More Renewable Energy News and Renewable Energy Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Debbie Millman: Designing Our Lives
From prehistoric cave art to today's social media feeds, to design is to be human. This hour, designer Debbie Millman guides us through a world made and remade–and helps us design our own paths.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#574 State of the Heart
This week we focus on heart disease, heart failure, what blood pressure is and why it's bad when it's high. Host Rachelle Saunders talks with physician, clinical researcher, and writer Haider Warraich about his book "State of the Heart: Exploring the History, Science, and Future of Cardiac Disease" and the ails of our hearts.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Insomnia Line
Coronasomnia is a not-so-surprising side-effect of the global pandemic. More and more of us are having trouble falling asleep. We wanted to find a way to get inside that nighttime world, to see why people are awake and what they are thinking about. So what'd Radiolab decide to do?  Open up the phone lines and talk to you. We created an insomnia hotline and on this week's experimental episode, we stayed up all night, taking hundreds of calls, spilling secrets, and at long last, watching the sunrise peek through.   This episode was produced by Lulu Miller with Rachael Cusick, Tracie Hunte, Tobin Low, Sarah Qari, Molly Webster, Pat Walters, Shima Oliaee, and Jonny Moens. Want more Radiolab in your life? Sign up for our newsletter! We share our latest favorites: articles, tv shows, funny Youtube videos, chocolate chip cookie recipes, and more. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.