Biomass breakthrough creates solar cells from shrimp shells

Researchers at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) have successfully created electricity-generating solar-cells with chemicals found the shells of shrimps and other crustaceans for the first time.

The process, which makes nanostructured solar cells from the widely and cheaply available chemicals found in crustacean shells, could be scaled up to be used in chargers for tablets, phones and smartwatches and to form semi-transparent solar 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,” said one of the project’s researchers Dr Joe Briscoe. “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.”

The researchers used a process known as hydrothermal carbonisation to create carbon quantum dots (CQDs) from the shells. They then coat standard zinc oxide nanorods with the CQDs to make the solar cells.

High-tech, low-cost

The materials chitin and chitosan found in the shells are abundant and significantly cheaper to produce than the expensive metals such as ruthenium that are currently used in making nanostructured solar-cells. Currently the efficiency of solar cells made with these new biomass-derived materials is low, but the implications of this could be scaled up if the process can be improved.

Professor Magdalena Titirici, Professor of Sustainable Materials Technology at QMUL, said: “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.”

“We’ve also used biomass, in that case algae, to make the kinds of supercapacitors that can be used to store power in consumer electronics, in defibrillators and for energy recovery in vehicles.”

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