Energy | June 19, 2008 |
Solar Cells Gain From Purposeful Imperfection
While not exactly specifying defective solar cells, scientists are using carbon nanotubes that have been intentionally texturized to replace traditional heavy metal catalysts in solar cells. As it is, the catalysts for conduction in solar panels are fussy. They have a lot of requirements, including those related to stiffness and temperature, that limit the design of the solar cell. But the carbon nanotubes can conduct reactions in a variety of environments, and even better if the carbon nanotubes have been roughed up a bit.
Purposely scoring the nanotubes, thereby rendering them technically "defective" adds more area for the chemical reactions that create energy from solar light to occur -- a plus in this process. Carbon nanotubes, which are tubes of graphite merely one atom thick, yield an array of other interesting benefits, such as helping plastic to gain the strength of steel without the associated weight, enhancing a variety of polymers and replacing copper due to its conductivity.
The catch is that nanotubes physically resemble asbestos in structure and have similar lung cancer-inducing effects. The science and consumer protection community are advocating heavy regulation to protect consumers, though the carbon nanotube industry charges fearlessly -- and some might argue dangerously -- ahead. Thorough research is necessary, but think of the potential if scientists are able to neutralize the carcinogenic threat that nanotubes pose.