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Solar Energy Created with Shrimp Shells?

Feb 20, 2015 02:44 PM EST

In a new unique study, scientists have successfully created solar cells using the shells of shrimps and other crustaceans of all things, possibly leading to a sustainable form of renewable energy.

At this point in time, the efficiency of these shrimp-inspired solar cells is low, but researchers hope that one day they could be placed in everything from wearable chargers for tablets, phones and smartwatches, to semi-transparent films over windows.

"This could be a great new way to make these versatile, quick and easy to produce solar cells from readily available, sustainable materials. Once we've improved their efficiency they could be used anywhere that solar cells are used now, particularly to charge the kinds of devices people carry with them every day," Dr. Joe Briscoe, one of the researchers on the project, said in a statement.

Currently, solar cells rely on expensive metals such as ruthenium, which is similar to platinum. But a team at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) decided to take a hint from nature. They instead used materials found in the shells of shrimp and other crustaceans - called chitin and chitosan - that are abundant and much cheaper to produce.

"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," explained Magdalena Titirici, professor of Sustainable Materials Technology at QMUL.

In order to convert the bio-materials into electricity-generating solar cells, the team used a process known as hydrothermal carbonization. This created the carbon quantum dots (CQDs) necessary in solar cells, which were then used to coat standard zinc oxide nanorods, resulting in the final product.

The solar cells are described in further detail in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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