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Solar Panels Made From Weeds Create Cheap Energy

Solar Panels Made From Weeds Create Cheap Energy

A scientist at Wake Forest University has found a way to replace expensive elements of solar panels with berries from the common pokeweed. Success on a commercial scale could be the key to supplying cheap, renewable energy to the developing world.

As people continue to realize the dirty and finite nature of fossil fuels, the quest for affordable-yet-renewable energy has picked up speed. The need for reliable sources of clean electricity is especially acute in the developing world, where coal and natural gas plants are springing up at an alarming rate.

Solar power presents a unique opportunity for impoverished nations to leap-frog the fossil fuel era, skipping decades of pollution, and allowing them to establish the smarter grid that so many developed countries are struggling to implement. There’s just one problem: solar technologies are still just too costly to utilize on a large scale.

While brainstorming ways to overcome this roadblock, David Carroll, director of the Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials at Wake Forest, was inspired by the flashy red berries of the pokeweed growing near his house.

Carroll and his team realized that natural dyes from plants rich in compounds called flavonoids can produce electrical current when sandwiched between the layers of a solar cell, in the spot where silicon would normally go. Pokeweed is a hardy plant that produces dark red berries that are not traditionally eaten.

To test its conductivity, the team smashed up the raw pokeberries and painted the purple juice on a transparent conductor, a piece of glass or plastic with an aluminum zinc oxide coating. That was sandwiched against a second plate covered with a very thin metal coating with a dilute solution of iodine between and placed in the sun.

Carroll and the students soon saw the results: poke power. They produced their first test pieces last summer.”A large panel of this stuff, a couple of meters on each side, could produce 5 to 10 watts pretty easily. That’s going to charge a battery up pretty fast,” Carroll said.To be sure, that’s a very low-power solar panel – creating enough power to run a small light bulb through the night, perhaps. But that low efficiency is just the point, Carroll said.

In many developing countries, work, study, and play time is dictated by the availability of light. Often remote villages depend on kerosene lamps to provide light after sundown, but these are dangerous and heavily pollute the air inside a home. With low-cost solar panels powered by pokeweed, families could enjoy clean electric light and perhaps enough power for a radio or cell phone that would drastically improve their quality of life.

Related Reading:

Solar Panels Act As Sails For Shipping Vessels

Solar Energy Powers 1 Million Bangladeshi Homes

Source: News Observer

Image Credit: Flickr – Justin Tso

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96 comments

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1:29PM PST on Jan 29, 2013

What a fabulous idea - how wonderful is nature :) It will be interesting to see where this leads to in the future!

3:35PM PDT on Sep 15, 2012

Very cool :)

3:30PM PDT on Sep 15, 2012

This is so awesome :)

4:54PM PDT on Sep 14, 2012

It really does go to prove that there is a substantial return but waiting for wholehearted investment solar sourced energy sources such as panels,wind and the like.

We simply need to avoid letting corporatism foreclose on our future in count of coin.

3:42PM PDT on Sep 14, 2012

interesting story

11:39PM PDT on Jun 4, 2012

wonderful story and great info by Andrew C. Thanks to all.

3:12AM PDT on Jun 2, 2012

when is the government going to quit subsidizing the oil companies and start helping out with solar....give us a bigger break on our taxes for solar so i can afford to put it on my roof and let the oil companies start paying their fair shares of taxes..it would be a win/win...for us and the environment...and the oil companies would just have to live with less of the billions in profit each quarter that they make..greedy *%^#@

2:04PM PST on Jan 9, 2012

I have solar panels (the current version) fitted to my property. Despite the fact that I do not live in the sunniest place in the world, England, they have reduced my electricity bill by 30%, which given the current price of electricity is a saving worth having. I guess that the fact that under a scheme operated by the UK Government I got them for free has been pretty useful as well!

10:45PM PST on Jan 6, 2012

wonderful, dont mind painting my roof w/ berry juice, to reduce the juice used in my home,
to offset heating costs!! A step in the right direction, no doubt!!

2:35PM PST on Jan 6, 2012

When this catches on it will hopefully be enough to break the bond between us and big oil and we will finally be able to turn around the damage we have done to this beautiful planet

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