Dye Sensitized Solar Cells include elements that emulate Photosynthesis

In an effort to make solar photovoltaic (PV) technology more affordable, scientists are looking for ways to capture the sun’s energy using pigment molecules that can be incorporated into glass or flexible, plastic solar cells.  Currently these dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSC) are not as efficient as silicon-based PV solar cells but “have higher overall power collection potential due to low-cost operability under a wider range of light and temperature conditions, and flexible application” (Ask Nature.org).

The steps of light absorption by a pigment molecule and subsequent creation of an “energized” or mobile electron is shared between the process of photosynthesis that occurs within a leaf and the mechanism of a DSSC.  Read more about how photosynthesis has inspired scientists to harvest solar energy using dye sensitized solar cells.

The Biomimicry Institute has a lesson plan for middle and high school students: Plant-inspired solar energy lab activity, where students can make their own dye-sensitized solar cells using berries.  This activity utilizes the Nanocrystalline Solar Cell Kit available for purchase from the Institute for Chemical Education (ICE).

The basic science behind the operation of a DSSC,  including a schematic diagram, is described by Kenneth Hanson, PhD, a chemist at UNC, in his  review of this Nanocrystalline Solar Cell Kit from ICE.

To take this a step further, scientists at UNC’s Energy Frontier Research Center are working to adapt dye-sensitized solar cells to produce chemical fuels, instead of electricity, just as plants use photosynthesis to convert sunlight into chemicals.  This process of converting sunlight into a fuel is referred to as artificial photosynthesis.


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