Caffeine perks up solar cells

Coffee gives people a boost in the morning. A “cuppa” might help solar panels, too.

Scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Solargiga Energy in China realized that caffeine is an alkaloid compound that interacts with perovskite materials, or crystal structures help solar cells absorb the sun’s energy.

Perovskite is a cheaper alternative to silicon. Others had been trying to improve perovskite materials, but they hadn’t tried caffeine.

“If we need coffee to boost our energy then what about perovskites? Would they need coffee to perform better?” said Jingjing Xue, a doctoral candidate at the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at UCLA, in a press release.

As detailed in their paper in the Joule, the scientists use infrared spectroscopy tests to observe that the atoms in the caffeine increased the minimum amount of energy that the perovskite materials needed, boosting the efficiency of solar cell from by as much as 20 percent. Heat didn’t reverse the reaction.

“We were surprised by the results,” said Rui Wang, another UCLA doctoral candidate. “During our first try incorporating caffeine, our perovskite solar cells already reached almost the highest efficiency we achieved in the paper. Caffeine can help the perovskite achieve high crystallinity, low defects, and good stability.”

In the future, the discovery could make perovskite a more viable alternative to popular silicon solar cells, added Wang. “This means it can potentially play a role in the scalable production of perovskite solar cells,” he said.

Image credit: Olle Svensson via Flickr

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