Compounds found in the shells of shrimp and other tasty crustaceans have been used to generate electricity in solar cells for the first time.
Crustacean exoskeletons get their structure from a sugary compound called chitin. Chitin and its derivative, chitosan, are much cheaper and more abundant than expensive metals like ruthenium (similar to platinum) that are used to make nanostructured solar cells now.
Using a biomass conversion technique called hydrothermal carbonization, researchers from Queen Mary University of London created light-sensitive materials called carbon quantum dots (CQDs) using the compounds found in crustacean shells. Then to make the solar cells, they used the CQDs to coat zinc oxide nanorods—tiny wires that are common in small devices like LEDs and UV photodetectors.
"This could be a great new way to make these versatile, quick and easy to produce solar cells from readily available, sustainable materials," QMUL’s Joe Briscoe says in a news release. “Once we've improved their efficiency they could be used anywhere that solar cells are used now, particularly to charge the kinds of devices people carry with them every day.”
At the moment, the efficiency of solar cells made with these organic byproducts is comparatively low. But if that can be improved, you could have shrimp-derived materials powering wearable chargers for tablets, phones, and watches or even semi-transparent films that you can just put on windows.
Their work will be published in an upcoming issue of Angewandte Chemie International Edition.