Researchers at Queen’s Mary University of London (QMUL) have developed cheap solar cells with chemicals found in the shells of shrimps and other crustaceans.
The shells contain chitin and chitosan, which are readily available and far cheaper to produce than expensive metals such as ruthenium, which is similar to platinum and is currently used in making nanostructured solar cells.
Using a process known as hydrothermal carbonisation, the researchers created carbon quantum dots (CQDs) from the chemicals in the crustacean shells and then coated standard zinc oxide nanorods with the CQDs to make the solar cells.
Although the efficiency of the solar cells with these biomass-derived materials is still low for now, the researchers envisage a day when they can be placed in everything from phones, smartwatches and even semi-transparent films over windows.
Professor Magdalena Titirici, professor of Sustainable Materials Technology at QMUL, said of the material: “New techniques mean that we can produce exciting new materials from organic by-products that are already easily available. Sustainable materials can be both high-tech and low-cost.”