Solar power has the potential to generate about 40% of the United States’ energy, yet the technology still has its limitations as reported by Inhabitat.
One of the largest obstacles is weather; clouds and rain diminish solar cell efficiency, which is a problem in places that are more overcast than sunny. But new research could change everything. A team of 4 Chinese scientists from Yunnan Normal University and the Ocean University of China recently discovered how applying graphene to solar panels has the potential to convert rain into clean energy.
The process of obtaining a one-atom thick layer of carbon from graphite was only discovered 10 years ago by researchers at The University of Manchester, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery. This very thin material is going to change the way we live in the future – with applications ranging from wearable technology to water purification. It is also considered the world’s most conductive material, thus making it perfect for solar cells.
Chinese scientists placed graphene on top of the solar cells in the presence of rainwater. The positively charged ions of different salts present in the rain (calcium, ammonium and sodium) interact with the electrons of the graphene to produce electricity, allowing the solar cells to function even on the wettest days.
It’s not a final solution, but it’s an interesting and innovative step. Graphene-coated solar cells are not efficient yet because they are only able to transform about 6.5% of the energy generated into actual usable electricity. Most solar panels can convert around 22%, thus more study is needed.