While using solar cell, a device known to convert energy obtained from sunlight into electricity, harvesting sunlight seems to be a major issue. As many a times, the sun’s rays may end up being highly destructive to other materials. With inspiration from nature, MIT experts have developed a solar material that promises to tackle this problem.
Scientists noticed that when sunlight tends to be destructive, plants begin to continuously break down their light-capturing molecules and regroup them from the very beginning. This process probably enables plants to safeguard the basic structures from the sun’s energy. The experts aimed at mimicking this process adopted by plants. For this they developed a unique set of self-assembling molecules that can convert sunlight into electricity. It was elucidated that the molecules can be frequently broken down and then reassembled immediately, by simply adding or removing an additional solution.
The process is known to take place in minute capsules known as chloroplasts that are present inside every plant cell. Even photosynthesis in plants takes place in chloroplasts itself. While imitating the process, experts produced synthetic molecules called phospholipids that form disks. These disks seemingly give structural support to other molecules which respond to light, in structures termed as reaction centers known to release electrons when struck by particles of light.
Reaction center holding disks are in a solution where they immediately attach themselves to carbon nanotubes. These nanotubes are wire-like hollow tubes of carbon atoms that are a few billionths of a meter thick. It has been claimed that these tubes are stronger than steel and conduct electricity in a more efficient manner as compared to copper. In order to expose all the reaction centers to sunlight at once, the nanotubes hold the phospholipid disks in a uniform alignment. These nanotubes also acting as wires accumulate and guide the flow of electrons knocked loose by the reactive molecules.
Seven different compounds are encompassed in the newly developed system, including carbon nanotubes, phospholipids, and proteins that make up reaction centers. These proteins instinctively gather themselves into a light-harvesting structure that generates an electric current under the right conditions. In the course of investigation, researchers ran the cell through repeated cycles of assembly and disassembly over a 14-hour period, with no loss of efficiency. Currently investigators are finding means to elevate the concentration of structures.
The paper was published in Nature Chemistry on September 5.