Scientists at the University of Manchester and the University of Singapore have found a way to make ultra-thin, flexible photovoltaic surfaces.
The team essentially deposited graphene – carbon atoms linked together creating a sheet with the thickness of just one atom – on other materials to make these surfaces able to absorb the sun’s energy.
Their research, published in the journal Science, is a step toward developing photovoltaic coverings or paint that can be applied to the outside walls of buildings.
Credit: University of Manchester
This research builds upon the 2004 discovery of graphene, by University of Manchester Nobel Laureates Professor Andre Geim and Professor Kostya Novoselov, and a group of other materials that are one atom thick. According to the University of Manchester, “graphene is the world’s thinnest, strongest and most conductive material.”
In this case, graphene was combined with ultra-thin layers of transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDC) to create a photovoltaic surface that converts sun to electricity very efficiently.
“We have been trying to go beyond graphene by combining it with other one atom thick materials. What we have been doing is putting different layers of these materials one on top of the other and what you get is a new type of material with a unique set of properties,” Professor Novoselov told the Telegraph.
“It is like a book – one page contains some information but together the book is so much more. We have demonstrated that we can produce a very efficient photovoltaic device. The fact it is flexible will hopefully make it easier to use. We are working on paints using this material as our next work but that is further down the line.”
The researchers say that by using these materials together, they have opened up the potential to not only power buildings by applying a graphene coating to the exterior, but also to power electronics like smartphones.
“We were able to identify the ideal combination of materials: very photosensitive TMDC and optically transparent and conductive graphene, which collectively create a very efficient photovoltaic device,” said Professor Antonio Castro Neto, Director of the Graphene Research Centre at the National University of Singapore.