Finding new and renewable energy sources is becoming more and more important, and solar panels are definitely at the top of the list. However, one of the challenges with solar panels is that they can take up a lot of space and be difficult to scale. That’s where agrivoltaics comes in – it’s a new field that focuses on using the same land for both solar power generation and agriculture.
For example, imagine if you could replace the glass in greenhouses with solar panels. The solar panels could power the greenhouse’s lights and water controls, and they could potentially power the entire farm. Pretty cool, right?
But here’s the catch – solar panels need to absorb sunlight to generate energy, which can block the light that plants need to grow. So, scientists have been working hard to design solar panels that can still absorb energy while letting enough light through for plants.
Enter Yang Yang, a materials scientist from UCLA, and his team. They have developed a new strategy for improving semi-transparent organic solar cells. These cells are made from carbon-based materials instead of inorganic substances, which makes them more suitable for use in agrivoltaics.
The team added a layer of L-glutathione, a naturally occurring chemical that’s sold as an antioxidant dietary supplement, to the solar cells. This layer extended the cell’s lifetime and improved its efficiency while still allowing enough sunlight to reach the plants in a greenhouse prototype.
Organic solar cells tend to degrade faster than inorganic ones because sunlight can cause them to oxidize and lose electrons. However the addition of the L-glutathione prevented the other materials in the solar cell from oxidizing, which kept the cells at over 80% efficiency even after 1,000 hours of continuous use – that’s a big improvement compared to less than 20% without the added layer.
So, Yang and his team have come up with a solution that could help make agrivoltaics more efficient and sustainable. It’s exciting to see how science and technology are working together to address some of our biggest challenges!