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Self-powering cars a step closer

|31 March 2017|


Creating the world of tomorrow is built on the breakthroughs of today. And researchers in Australia have just made a discovery which could bring things like self-powering cars, smart phones and buildings a major step closer.

Taking inspiration from an American fern, a team from from RMIT University in Melbourne has developed a game-changing prototype designed to capitalise on the immense power of solar energy.

The graphene-based electrode could open up a pathway to the production of the type of thin and flexible film – all-in-one solar capture and storage technology – that would be needed to realise these self-powered devices. While in the more immediate future, it could transform energy storage, boosting capabilities by 3000%.

“The most exciting possibility is using this electrode with a solar cell, to provide a total on-chip energy harvesting and storage solution,” Litty Thekkekara, lead author and PhD researcher said.

“We can do that now with existing solar cells but these are bulky and rigid. The real future lies in integrating the prototype with flexible thin film solar – technology that is still in its infancy.

“Flexible thin film solar could be used almost anywhere you can imagine, from building windows to car panels, smart phones to smart watches. We would no longer need batteries to charge our phones or charging stations for our hybrid cars.

“With this flexible electrode prototype we’ve solved the storage part of the challenge, as well as shown how they can work with solar cells without affecting performance. Now the focus needs to be on flexible solar energy, so we can work towards achieving our vision of fully solar-reliant, self-powering electronics.”

The breakthrough electrode prototype (right) can be combined with a solar cell (left) for on-chip energy harvesting and storage. Credit: RMIT University

Praising “nature’s own genius” for providing the lead, RMIT’s Professor Min Gu added: “The leaves of the western swordfern are densely crammed with veins, making them extremely efficient for storing energy and transporting water around the plant. Our electrode is based on these fractal shapes — which are self-replicating, like the mini structures within snowflakes — and we’ve used this naturally-efficient design to improve solar energy storage at a nano level.”


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