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Meet the World's First Solar Battery

Oct 03, 2014 08:02 PM EDT
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For the first time, scientists have combined a rechargeable battery with a solar cell to create the world's first solar battery, new research describes.

The hybrid device converts light to electrons inside the battery, improving efficiency to nearly 100 percent. Not to mention that it has the potential to bring down the cost of solar power by 25 percent, according to the lead inventor, Yiying Wu.

"The state of the art is to use a solar panel to capture the light, and then use a cheap battery to store the energy," Wu, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Ohio State University, said in a statement. "We've integrated both functions into one device. Any time you can do that, you reduce cost."

Solar energy typically occurs when photovoltaic panels capture sunlight and convert it into electricity. Electrons then have to travel between a solar cell and an external battery - a process that unfortunately is inefficient, as only 80 percent of the electrons make the journey.

Key to this recent breakthrough is a mesh solar panel made from titanium gauze with nanometer-sized rods of titanium dioxide, which allows air to enter the battery.

The way it works is, when the solar panel absorbs light, the light breaks apart lithium peroxide inside the battery to make lithium ions and oxygen. The oxygen goes into the air, but the lithium ions, which have a charge, get stored in the battery. When the battery discharges, it chemically consumes oxygen from the air to re-form the lithium peroxide.

"Basically, it's a breathing battery," Wu said. "It breathes in air when it discharges, and breathes out when it charges."

Wu and his team think that the solar battery's lifetime will be comparable to rechargeable batteries already on the market.

Their findings were published in the journal Nature Communications.

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