Tired of your digital camera batteries running down or your mobile phone losing its charge? It may soon be a thing of the past, with scientists at the University of Western Sydney now working on breakthrough technology to create even smaller and more powerful energy devices.
The team of researchers at UWS, Professor Mick Wilson, Dean of Science, Technology and Environment at UWS, Dr Kamali Kannangara and Dr Adriyan Milev, are working to produce a high-efficiency carbon cell that could compete in performance with silicon cells - except it would be 1000 times smaller and much longer-lasting.
Project coordinator Dr Kannangara says the team is developing a new method to make carbon solar cells from carbon nanotubes.
Highly conductive carbon nanotubes are like 'atomic-level spaghetti' and have many properties-from their uniquely tiny dimensions to a current conduction mechanism-that make them perfect components of electrical circuits.
"Carbon nanotubes, which are tiny straw-like cylinders made of pure carbon, have extraordinary mechanical and electronic properties", explains Dr Kannangara.
"These miniature cylinders, which are five times more conductive than copper wires, may one day find their way into molecular solar cells as tiny conductors," she says.
"We hope the carbon cells could power nanoelectrical motors that are so tiny that a thousand motors could fit on the head of a pin."
The researchers are manipulating these nanotubes by linking them with ferrocene (an iron atom sandwiched by carbon atoms) molecules, which could trap electrical energy that must be transferred to a molecular motor with very little loss of energy.
But the challenge for Dr Kannangara's team in making carbon solar cells is that carbon nanotubes are inert so they don't react easily with most chemicals.
To connect a photovoltaic ferrocene molecule and the carbon nanotube, Dr Kamali Kannangara and her colleagues are using a process called 'functionalisation'.
Using this process, Dr Kannangara is linking photovoltaic ferrocene molecules to nanotubes by using microwave energy to carry out effective functionalisation.
"By increasing the number of ferrocene groups attached to the nanotube walls, we can boost the photo energy conversion performance of these new cells.
Our investigation into photovoltaic effects in nanotubes could lead to significant advances in more efficient and compact solar cells," Dr Kannangara says.
The research team at UWS has a partnership with the Australian Research Centre for Functional Nanomaterials, which is directed by Professor Max Lu at the University of Queensland.
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