Australian Solar Research Uses Carbon Nanotubes

Nanoscientists from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia are developing a new breed of polymer-based solar photovoltaic panels that are on the nano-scale in thickness and both light and flexible for portable power applications.

The researchers anticipate their technology most applicable in remote power for portable electronics like cell phones and laptop computers. The flexible, 100 nanometer-thick polymer sheet devices will be able to be rolled up and taken anywhere to free users-on-the-move from having to depend on fossil fuel powered sockets to keep their communications devices charged. Professor Nunzio Motta of QUT’s School of Engineering Systems and Dr. Eric Waclawik from the School of Physical and Chemical Sciences are developing the new renewable energy source using nanotechnology. Weighing all of 10 micrograms per centimeter squared, the new product is an inexpensive composite material made from carbon nanotubes, one-tenth the size of a human hair, and conductive polymer. The polymer tiles could be easily linked together in a patchwork to increase the size and generate more power according to individual needs. “QUT is the only university to be looking to develop the use of carbon nanotubes in this way,” Motta said. “This solar cell could generate enough energy to recharge the batteries of low power devices such as laptops and mobiles.” Dr. Waclawik said the polymer could be a viable alternative to silicon solar cells, which are expensive, heavy and delicate. “Although silicon solar cells have gained considerable market share and commercial success, high production costs still limit their commercial viability,” Motta said. “We are exploring the development of low-cost alternative photovoltaic in the Applied Nanotechnology group under a QUT Strategic Collaborative Grant.”
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