Is Iron Key to New Solar Technology?


We may be on the brink of a breakthrough in renewable energy that will push this sector even further. This pivotal development involves the ability to lower the cost of solar energy generation even further.

Researchers in the Chemistry Department at Lund University in Sweden have now successfully produced an iron-based dye that is capable of converting light into electrons with nearly 100 per cent efficiency. The study, published in Nature Chemistry, is a result of collaboration between researchers from several divisions at Lund University, as well as researchers from Uppsala University.

To produce energy, solar panels manufacturers rely upon ruthenium, that effectively convert sunlight into electricity. Today, the best solar cells use dyes containing ruthenium metal, a rare transition metal and expensive element.

There is another approach that shows great promise. It involves using a thin film of nanostructured titanium dioxide and a dye that captures solar energy. This enables the capture and conversion of energy without losing it through heat.

Previous attempts to find cheaper replacement for ruthenium have been unsuccessful. They have resulted in molecules that convert light energy into heat instead of electrons, which is required for solar cells to generate electricity.

The solution seems to lie in the ability to use iron, a simple and cheap substance. By using molecules that contain iron, researchers at Lund University have found a new way to capture energy from sunlight. This is extraordinary because iron is plentiful and inexpensive. It will lower the cost of production.

This is a breakthrough. Indeed using any metal that costs less than ruthenium would put solar in the lead as the least expensive power sources, even when considering problems associated with inversion and power transfer to the grid.

On a global scale, solar power is still tiny, providing only 1 percent of the world’s electricity, according to the International Energy Agency. It is now clear, though, that it has the potential to contribute much more than that. Of all renewables, solar has the greater capacity for costs to fall further.

We are on the verge of remarkable developments in solar.

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