Wed, Mar 06, 2019 - Page 4 News List

Researchers use dragon fruit to make solar cells

MORE WORK AHEAD:While dye-sensitized cells are easier and cheaper to make, they are unable to achieve the high energy conversion efficiency of traditional cells

By Ting Wei-chieh and Sherry Hsiao  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

National Chiayi University electrical engineering professor Chiang Cheng-ta, right, and his student Chien Liang-yu hold up their dye-sensitized solar cell in Chiayi in an undated photograph.

Photo: CNA

Researchers have developed a method to create dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs) using dragon fruit extracts.

Out of concern for the environment and to reduce pollution caused by the production and disposal of traditional solar panels, Chien Liang-yu (簡亮語) researched organic solar cells for two years, said National Chiayi University electrical engineering professor Chiang Cheng-ta (江政達), who advised Chien.

By experimenting with solar cells manufactured with dye from dragon fruit, Chien discovered that compared with other fruit, it achieved the “most obvious” voltage when applied to fluorine-doped tin oxide films, Chiang said.

By coupling the solar cell with a conversion chip, Chien created a highly sensitive “dragon fruit solar inverter,” Chiang said.

The properties of the solar cell could be used to measure sunlight intensity, such as in an orchid greenhouse, he said.

Unlike other types of power generation systems, DSSCs produce less pollution and are cheaper to manufacture, said Chien, who has been admitted to a graduate program in National Chung Hsing University’s Department of Electrical Engineering.

However, compared with traditional solar cells, DSSCs still have room for improvement in terms of their solar energy conversion efficiency, he said.

It would be worthwhile to develop designs that can achieve high solar energy conversion efficiency and are also environmentally friendly, he added.

Traditional solar cells made from silicon or thin films need to be made in clean rooms, requiring a high level of technology and involving a complex manufacturing process, Chiang said.

In contrast, the technology required to manufacture DSSCs, such as slot die coating or extrusion coating, is less complex, he said.

DSSCs can also be manufactured and assembled in non-vacuum environments and at room temperature, he added.

Although it is relatively easy to create DSSCs, their production still mostly involves synthetic dyes, not those produced from fruit or vegetables, Chiang said.

While synthetic dyes are capable of achieving high efficiency, they create problems in terms of pollution, he said.

Natural dyes can be extracted from fruit — such as blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, pomegranates, cranberries and dragon fruit — or vegetables in order to minimize the level of pollution, he added.

Any fruit or vegetable that contains proanthocyanidins could be used as a substitute material, Chiang said, adding that in their research, he and Chien used dragon fruit as the main source of dyes.

A study the two authored on using dragon fruit dyes to create DSSCs was published in the peer-reviewed IEEE Sensors Journal on Feb. 4.

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