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Shrimp shells aid organic solar cell production

25 Feb 2015  | R. Colin Johnson

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Shrimps, specifically the chitin material found in shrimp shells, offer a new way to make highly efficient organic solar cells and panels, as discovered by the Titirici group, a research team from the Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) School of Engineering.

The group's aims are to search for materials found only in nature and to develop them into production-worthy, carbon-based organic solar cells, advanced energy storage devices and faster ways to develop fuel cells. Thus, the Titirici group is looking specifically at chitin, a component found in shrimp shells.

"My group is interested in the production of nanostructured carbon materials from renewable and low-cost natural precursors for renewable energy applications," Prof. Magdalena Titirici told EE Times. The group has already explored the idea of using shrimp shells as a source of porous carbon, Titirici added.

Shrimps contain chitin, which can be used as a source of nitrogen-doped carbon and calcium carbonate that can be dissolved and used as a sacrificial template to induce porosity. "Porous, nitrogen-doped carbon materials are currently used as electrodes in energy storage devices or as catalysts in fuel cells. However, in this particular case, we used only the chitin component of shrimp to generate nitrogen-doped carbon nanoparticles with interesting optical properties," Titirici said.

Ordinary shrimp

Ordinary shrimp, whose shells are available in mass supplies, contain the ingredients needed to create organic solar cells.

Titirici and her collaborators at the QMUL said they are the first group to have found the precursors for organic solar cells not only in shrimp shells, which are abundantly available at very cheap prices, but also in the shells of other crustaceans in the sea. The basic materials are chitin and chitosan, which are significantly cheaper than ruthenium and platinum, which are usually used in organic solar cells.

Unfortunately, the efficiency of these materials is very low. However, the researchers have high hopes that it can be increased enough to power chargers for smartwatches, smartphones, tablets and perhaps even semi-transparent films to cover the windows of buildings.

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