New Solar Cell Technology Can Get Energy From Rain

Solar cell technology is gaining popularity among countries that are looking for alternative sources of electricity and energy. Aside from the fact that it is cheaper, it is also a reliable source of power for places that receive a lot of sunlight.

Solar power is harvested by solar cells, which are then placed into panels and situated in locations that can receive sunlight. However, a solar cell's ultimate enemy is rain, and once it gets wet, its ability to generate energy from sunlight is greatly reduced.

Solar cells also do not seem too effective in cloudy weather, so areas that get a lot of precipitation and snow are not encouraged to use such alternative sources of power.

Fortunately, according to the science journal Angewandte Chemie, a team of scientists from the Ocean University of China (Qingdao) and Yunnan Normal University (Kunming) was able to develop a new solar cell that can get solar energy even when they're wet.

So what's the difference?

Aside from the usual materials and composition of a solar cell, an additional atom-thick layer of graphene is added. Graphene is a two-dimensional form of carbon whose atoms are placed in a layer that looks like a honeycomb.

The atomic arrangement in graphene allows electrons to move freely across the layer. If the environment is aqueous, graphene electrons can bind positively charged ions.

With this addition, particles of water that stay on the surface of the cell would actually serve as a natural capacitor. Raindrops are not pure water – they are made up of water and some other compounds.

The liquid graphene's electrons would separate the positive and negative ions of rainwater and would create a dual-layer system, making it a pseudocapacitor. In a pseudocapacitor, electrons are donated from one side to the other in order to balance charges.

Positive ions in raindrops are made up of salts like sodium, calcium, and ammonium. These ions would interact with the negative electrons in the graphene and generate voltage or current, which can then be used to "capture" electricity.

The new solar cell can still function like regular solar cells, and once the weather changes and raindrops start to fall, they can be switched to use the graphene-based energy collection system.

The Chinese scientists used simulated rainwater to test the new solar cell in a laboratory.

Unfortunately, based on the laboratory tests, the new solar cell technology is only capable of getting 6.5 percent of the energy that it gets, as opposed to the 22.5 percent that better solar cells are capable of harvesting.

Hopefully, with the help of more research and tests, scientists can develop a solar cell that can work in all types of weather and climates.

If this particular solar cell can be developed, then solar panels would not need to be placed in areas that receive much sunlight.

Aside from the fact that the new solar cell technology would help in promoting solar energy in countries, creating it would also be easy.

Graphene is made out of carbon, which is the fourth most abundant element on Earth. This means mass-producing solar cells with graphene would not be difficult or too expensive.

In addition to the common nature of graphene, it is also considered the thinnest compound on Earth, at only one atom thick. Considering its flexible and thin frame, graphene is 400 times stronger than steel and the best conductor of electricity known to man.

Aside from its potential use in solar cells, graphene has also been linked to light bulbs, body sensors, and even research on how to increase internet connection speeds.

[Photo by David Tulis/AP Images]