Dr Mark Bissett of the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences at Flinders University in Adelaide Australia, has developed a revolutionary new type of solar cell that uses carbon nanotubes to convert energy from the sun into electricity. And as he describes in an article about his work on the University web site, it’s also transparent, which means it could be used to coat windows in office buildings, allowing them to produce electricity.
Pennsylvania’s Reading University has created a website called, aptly, The Nanotube Site, to explain how carbon nanotubes are made, how they work, and what they can be used for. There it’s explained that carbon nanotubes are sheets of carbon just one atom thick that have been arranged in row-column order in pre-defined ways. Doing so allows for special and unique properties to exit, most specifically regarding electronics and optics.
Because the carbon atoms are able to tie so closely, they are better able to conduct electricity than most other materials. Thus, they are more efficient. Also, because of the unique structure of the nanotube material, they are able to directly transfer energy between the nanontubes and energy received from the sun. And finally, because carbon nanotubes are only one atom thick, sheets of it appear transparent to the human eye. All three of these qualities make them ideal for use as solar generators when applied to clear glass, such as windows.
Unfortunately, as Dr. Bissett explains, because nanotubes are so tiny, they are rather difficult to work with. That’s why it’s taken him nearly four years to figure out how to not just make sheets of carbon nanotubes of the size needed for office building windows, but to find an ingredient to mix with them that causes them to adhere to a window without reducing its efficiency in converting solar energy into electricity.
Now that he has found the right mix, Dr. Bissett says he’s got the perfect product and now just needs a manufacturing partner and customers. He writes that he is confidant of both, though initially mostly domestically, which is fortuitous because Australia just happens to be one of the sunniest places on the planet and thus stands to benefit the most from such solar generating ideas.
Bissett says not only will his solar cells be cheaper to produce than conventional cells; savings he plans to pass on to his customers, but they will also be more Earth friendly because they don’t consume nearly the amount of energy to make them as do others.