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Wings Inspire Solar Cells

Photonics.com
Feb 2009
SHANGHAI, China, Feb. 5, 2009 -- The discovery that butterfly wings have scales that act as tiny solar collectors has led scientists in China and Japan to design a more efficient solar cell that could be used for powering homes, businesses, and other applications in the future.

In the study, Di Zhang of the State Key Lab of Metal Matrix Composites at Shanghai Jiao Tong University and colleagues note that scientists are searching for new materials to improve light-harvesting in so-called dye-sensitized solar cells, also known as Grätzel cells for inventor Michael Grätzel. These cells have the highest light-conversion efficiencies among all solar cells — as high as 10 percent.ButterflyWing.jpg
A close-up of the scales of a butterfly wing, which have inspired more powerful solar cells. (Image: Michael Apel, Wikipedia Commons)
The researchers turned to the microscopic solar scales on butterfly wings in their search for improvements. Using natural butterfly wings as a mold or template, they made copies of the solar collectors and transferred those light-harvesting structures to Grätzel cells. Laboratory tests showed that the butterfly wing solar collector absorbed light more efficiently than conventional dye-sensitized cells. The fabrication process is simpler and faster than other methods, and could be used to manufacture other commercially valuable devices, the researchers say.

Their study, "Novel Photoanode Structure Templated from Butterfly Wing Scales," appeared in the Jan. 13 issue of the American Chemical Society's Chemistry of Materials, a biweekly journal.

For more information, visit: http://pubs.acs.org


GLOSSARY
cell
1. A single unit in a device for changing radiant energy to electrical energy or for controlling current flow in a circuit. 2. A single unit in a device whose resistance varies with radiant energy. 3. A single unit of a battery, primary or secondary, for converting chemical energy into electrical energy. 4. A simple unit of storage in a computer. 5. A limited region of space. 6. Part of a lens barrel holding one or more lenses.
light
Electromagnetic radiation detectable by the eye, ranging in wavelength from about 400 to 750 nm. In photonic applications light can be considered to cover the nonvisible portion of the spectrum which includes the ultraviolet and the infrared.
photonics
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
solar cell
A device for converting sunlight into electrical energy, consisting of a sandwich of P-type and N-type semiconducting wafers. A photon with sufficient energy striking the cell can dislodge an electron from an atom near the interface of the two crystal types. Electrons released in this way, collected at an electrode, can constitute an electrical current.
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