Copying mother nature's designs

December 10, 2009

RIVERSIDE, Calif. - David Bocian of the University of California, Riverside will receive more than $1 million over five years as a co-investigator in the Photosynthetic Antenna Research Center (PARC), to be headquartered at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo. The center seeks to better understand natural photosynthetic systems and design more durable human-made compounds for capturing light.

"Research on solar cells during the past 15 years has failed to appreciably increase cell efficiency," said Bocian, a professor of biophysical and materials chemistry, who researches energy conversion systems using a range of analytical techniques. Bocian cites lack of funding for basic research as the reason why today's solar cells have only 6-11 percent energy efficiency.

But there is hope in Congress's recent approval of funding for PARC and 45 similar Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) through the Department of Energy.

"The precedent in this case is the number of centers funded," Bocian said. "Normally the National Science Foundation calls for proposals and eventually funds three or four centers."

The $277 million allocated for the 46 EFRCs is significant, especially in that it requires no "deliverables" (functioning products) but rather seeks to address basic science questions.

Shiny silicon-wafer cells are extremely brittle, but Bocian explained that the new solar cells would be flexible, and could be integrated with textiles, allowing clothes to act as a walking power source for cell phones and computers.

He hopes to aid the development of what he calls "bio-inspired" antenna systems, which will collect and focus light to power solar cells.

These systems are bio-inspired because they are based on the dynamics of natural proteins. Nature "engineers" rings of light-harvesting complexes, each hosting a certain number of chlorophylls (photosynthetic light-absorbing pigments). Organisms simultaneously absorb light from different wavelength regions, significantly increasing their energy efficiency.

Bocian and his lab (funds will support at least one student and a post-doc each year for the next five years) use resonance Raman spectroscopy and other techniques to study chromophores, light-absorbing molecules. Resonance Raman spectroscopy, Bocian explained, allows his lab to study the vibrational resonance of individual molecules of interest.

Bocian noted that one advantage of the new cells is that they are more amenable to applications where today's solar cells cannot be used.

"Moreover, the main problem with today's solar cells is that they are not cost effective," he said, "and that's what we're hoping to change with this project."
-end-
The University of California, Riverside (www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment of about 18,000 is expected to grow to 21,000 students by 2020. The campus is planning a medical school and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Graduate Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

A broadcast studio with fiber cable to the AT&T Hollywood hub is available for live or taped interviews. To learn more, call (951) UCR-NEWS.


University of California - Riverside

Related Solar Cells Articles from Brightsurf:

Solar cells of the future
Organic solar cells are cheaper to produce and more flexible than their counterparts made of crystalline silicon, but do not offer the same level of efficiency or stability.

A blast of gas for better solar cells
Treating silicon with carbon dioxide gas in plasma processing brings simplicity and control to a key step for making solar cells.

Record efficiency for printed solar cells
A new study reports the highest efficiency ever recorded for full roll-to-roll printed perovskite solar cells.

Next gen solar cells perform better when there's a camera around
A literal ''trick of the light'' can detect imperfections in next-gen solar cells, boosting their efficiency to match that of existing silicon-based versions, researchers have found.

On the trail of organic solar cells' efficiency
Scientists at TU Dresden and Hasselt University in Belgium investigated the physical causes that limit the efficiency of novel solar cells based on organic molecular materials.

Exciting tweaks for organic solar cells
A molecular tweak has improved organic solar cell performance, bringing us closer to cheaper, efficient, and more easily manufactured photovoltaics.

For cheaper solar cells, thinner really is better
Researchers at MIT and at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have outlined a pathway to slashing costs further, this time by slimming down the silicon cells themselves.

Flexible thinking on silicon solar cells
Combining silicon with a highly elastic polymer backing produces solar cells that have record-breaking stretchability and high efficiency.

Perovskite solar cells get an upgrade
Rice University materials scientists find inorganic compounds quench defects in perovskite-based solar cells and expand their tolerance of light, humidity and heat.

Can solar technology kill cancer cells?
Michigan State University scientists have revealed a new way to detect and attack cancer cells using technology traditionally reserved for solar power.

Read More: Solar Cells News and Solar Cells Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.