"We've created artificial photosystems using optical nanomaterials to harvest solar energy that is converted to electrical power," said Jong Hyun Choi, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University.
The design exploits the unusual electrical properties of structures called single-wall carbon nanotubes, using them as "molecular wires in light harvesting cells," said Choi, whose research group is based at the Birck Nanotechnology and Bindley Bioscience centers at Purdue's Discovery Park.
"I think our approach offers promise for industrialization, but we're still in the basic research stage," he said.
Photoelectrochemical cells convert sunlight into electricity and use an electrolyte - a liquid that conducts electricity - to transport electrons and create the current. The cells contain light-absorbing dyes called chromophores, chlorophyll-like molecules that degrade due to exposure to sunlight.