Are window blinds the future of power generation?
Imagine a future where household appliances are run with electricity generated by window blinds.
Such a future might seem far-fetched, but not to Deakin University PhD student Gayathri Devi Rajmohan.
Rajmohan is working on harnessing the sun's rays through solar panels that are thin and flexible enough to be made into products such as window blinds and backpacks or attached to car roofs.
Existing solar panels, like the ones seen on roof tops, are rigid, bulky and expensive. An alternative to these panels is the dye-sensitised solar cell that is cheaper, lighter and easier to manufacture and flexible enough to cover many surfaces.
However a number of drawbacks with these cells have prevented them from being commercially available. The main problem, and one that Rajmohan believes she can fix, is the low rate of energy they produce.
"As an alternative method to improve the efficiency of these solar cells, we are exploring an environmentally friendly option — plasma technology," she said.
"Plasma, which most people associate with televisions, is a highly energetic gas that carries positive and negative charges that can interact with various materials and change the way they behave. For example, we are using plasma to change the properties of one of the active materials in dye-sensitised solar cells so they can produce more current from the sun."
Dye-sensitised solar cells mimic plants in the way they convert sunlight to energy. Where plants have green pigment in their leaves to capture sunlight and convert it to the energy they need to grow, dye-sensitised solar cells have a red dye that collects the sunlight to generate electricity.
"The red dye in the solar cells is attached to tiny spheres immersed in a liquid," Rajmohan said.
"We are applying a plasma treatment to alter the surface of the tiny spheres in order to load more dye and to improve the movement of electrons. This means that more sunlight can be captured and converted to electricity.
"By using this new technology we have started to increase the efficiency of the dye-sensitised solar cell and we believe this is one step closer to seeing our city buildings covered with cheap, flexible and efficient solar panels, so that, just like a rainforest, every bit of sunlight is captured and used without leaving any carbon footprint."
Rajmohan recently presented her research findings at Deakin's Three Minute Thesis competition, and won the people's choice award.
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