Griffith Hack Clean & Sustainable Technologies

North Carolina research workers show how water based ‘artificial leaf’ generates electricity by Griffith Hack
October 5, 2010, 8:17 am
Filed under: Feature

Did you know that a North Carolina State University staff has demonstrated that water gel-based solar devices (called: “artificial leaves”) can act like solar cells to make electricity?

The study has been released on-line inside the Journal of Materials Chemistry by Doctor. Orlin Velev, an Invista Professor associated with Chemical and Bio-molecular Engineering.

The findings prove the idea for making solar cells that more closely imitate nature. They also have the possibility to be cheaper and more environmentally friendly than the existing standard silicon based solar cells.

The bendable products are composed of water-based gel infused using light-sensitive molecules (like plant chlorophyll) coupled with electrodes coated by carbon materials, such as carbon nanotubes or graphite.

Graphene is the basic structural element of a number of carbon allotropes including graphite, carbon nanotubes and fullerenes. Graphene is a one-atom thick planar sheet of carbon atoms that are largely packed in a honeycomb crystal lattice. The title comes from graphite ene; graphite itself consists of a lot of graphene sheets piled together.

The light-sensitive molecules get “excited” by the sun’s rays to create electricity, similar to plant molecules that get excited to synthesize sugar in order to grow.

Dr. Velev says that the research team hopes to “learn how to copy the materials through which nature harnesses solar power.” Although man made light-sensitive molecules can be used, Velev says naturally produced products, like chlorophyll, are also very easily integrated in these products because of their particular water-gel matrix.

Velev even imagines a future where homes could be covered with soft sheets of similar electrical power-generating man-made-leaf pv cells. The concept of biochemically inspired ‘soft’ products for generating electricity may in the future offer an alternative for the present-day solid-state technologies.

About the Author: Colleen J. Mcguire creates for the, her personal hobby blog site focused on recommendations to help property owners to spend a smaller amount energy with solar power.

Reference: Aqueous soft matter based pv devices. Journal of Materials Chemistry, 2011; DOI:


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