A microscopic image of a novel solar-cell battery revealing a permeable mesh structure.
Yiying Wu, The Ohio State University A microscopic image of a novel solar-cell battery revealing a permeable mesh structure.

Renewable energy research often focuses on two technological trajectories: harnessing power and storing it. Photovoltaic panels, for example, are designed to maximize the output of energy captured from the sun, while batteries are designed to optimize the preservation of this energy.

A solar battery developed by researchers at the Ohio State University (OSU) cleverly combines these functions, revealing the measurable benefits of their union. The hybrid device is capable of storing nearly all of the power it harnesses thanks to a mesh-based solar cell whose direct connection with the battery allows it to transfer and contain energy more efficiently.

"The state of the art is to use a solar panel to capture the light, and then use a cheap battery to store the energy," said Yiying Wu, a chemistry and biochemistry professor at OSU, in a press release. "We’ve integrated both functions into one device. Any time you can do that, you reduce cost.”

Made of titanium gauze, the solar cell's flexible mesh allows air to flow freely through it while turning the sunlight that hits it into electrons. The solar cell comprises three layers of electrodes: the mesh panel, a sheet of porous carbon, and a lithium plate. Electrolytes sandwiched between each layer feature an iodide additive that enables the transport of electrons between the solar panel and the battery—a novel innovation in enhancing battery performance, the team said. Inside the battery, electrons decompose lithium peroxide, which is formed when the battery discharges, into lithium ions and oxygen. The oxygen is released back into the air while the lithium ions are stored as energy.

According to Wu, the new breathable cell and battery translate into a 25-percent cost savings over traditional standalone devices. Moreover, the direct integration of the technologies mitigates the conventional problem of electricity loss when electrons travel between devices.

OSU said it plans to license the technology to industry, though there are no definitive plans for commercialization. Still, the hybrid technology exhibits obvious benefits that may ensure its market success.

Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.