Coming Soon: An Indoor Solar Panel That Can Generate Electricity From The Lights In Your Home
Everyone’s electricity bills spikes up during the summer months, and for good reason. Ever wondered if there was a way to recycle some of that power you consume everyday? Meet a team of researchers that’s recycling the energy we use to power the lights around our homes and offices.A combined team of researchers from Switzerland, China, and Sweden have developed a new version of solar cells called dye-sensitized solar cells, that are capable of absorbing light on a far greater scale than the traditional type, even compared to the type of solar cells we send up into space.In regular photovoltaic cells, electrons are generated in a semiconductor, which are transferred out through wires and then sent back int the other side of the device to generate useable current Dye-sensitized solar cells work somewhat differently. Here, the dyes act as the photovoltaic material generating electrons, while the semiconductors only move them along as current. Electrons then flow back into the system through an electrolyte, which carries electrons from external wiring and delivers them to the dye molecules, going full circle.
This technique makes the new solar cells cheaper to produce and more flexible in their applications, thanks to both how the dye cells are produced and the fact that copper is the main electrolyte component and not rare metals. It’s also possible, by modifying the dye mixture, to absorb only certain wavelengths of light or broaden the absorption range.But the main benefit here is that, while the new photovoltaic cells actually perform less efficiently than current models when in sunlight, it’s under indoor lighting that they shine, so to speak. Unlike sunlight, indoor lighting contains mostly light in the visible range, which the dye-sensitive cells can be modified to be attuned to. The results are promising, with the new cells achieving 29 percent efficiency, as opposed to 20 percent achieved by the gallium-arsenide solar cells sent into space.
The researchers estimate that the new solar cells can power a small sensor with just one or two square centimeter of the cell receiving ambient light. That means a panel the size of the average cell phone could produce around 30 milliWatts when placed in a brightly lit room, and that efficiency can only go up as researchers examine the device’s capability further. One day, we may even be able to recycle a significant fraction of our home lighting energy to power small devices.