Chinese scientists have modified solar panels to produce a current when in contact with water.
Solar panels offer a clean source of energy, and in sunny climates, they can be quite dependable too. Unfortunately, in regions where the sky isn’t always blue (one example is Sweden, where last November, the capital city saw only two hours of sunshine the whole month), the panels are a less ideal source of power, and hardly cost effective.
Four Chinese scientists from Yunnan Normal University and the Ocean University of China have made a discovery which might make the panels more useful in temperate climates and overcast conditions. By coating traditional solar panels in a layer of graphene, they produce an interesting effect when in contact with rain water.
Graphene is a mono-atomic layer of carbon discovered only ten years ago, and is the most electrically conductive material on the planet. Its potential is far reaching, seeing applications in everything from super capacitors to smart clothing. Electrons in the graphene interact with natural salts in the water, including ammonia, sodium and calcium to produce electricity.
The researchers point out that solar panels operate with roughly 20% efficiency, and that their new discovery only converts around 6.5% of the potential energy into electricity. It is also unclear how the chemical process may be effected by local pollutants. Thus, there’s more work to be done before the new technology can be implemented for commercial applications. Still, the potential of the technology is quite exciting, compensating for the biggest weakness of traditional solar panels.
It can be argued that in many regions of the world, solar panels are still an unreliable and expensive energy source. However, with the current rate of technological improvement, both to the panels themselves, and to new discoveries such as this latest development, solar panels may see global appeal in just a few decades.