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Renewable energy science fair project:
Investigate ways to prolong the operational lifespan of dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs)

Science Fair Project Information
Title: Investigate ways to prolong the operational lifespan of dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs)
Subject: Renewable Energy
Grade level: High School - Grades 10-12
Academic Level: Advanced
Project Type: Experimental
Cost: High
Awards: 1st place, Canada Wide Virtual Science Fair ($500)
Affiliation: Canada Wide Virtual Science Fair (VSF)
Year: 2010
Description: Homemade dye-sensitized solar cells were used to investigate ways to prolong the operational lifespan of the cells and increase their current production rates. Benzoic acid was used to inhibit bacterial growth on the natural plant dye, and sealing agents were used to prevent the evaporation of liquid electrolyte. It was investigated if the cells containing a mixture of pigments would produce higher current readings than the control cells due to an increased absorption spectrum. The optimal pH levels for several dye pigments were determined.
Link: http://www.virtualsciencefair.org/2010/pansxs2
Short Background

Dye-Sensitized Solar Cell

A dye-sensitized solar cell (DSSC, DSC or DYSC) is a class of low-cost solar cell belonging to the group of thin film solar cells. It is based on a semiconductor formed between a photo-sensitized anode and an electrolyte; a photoelectrochemical system. This cell was invented by Michael Grätzel and Brian O'Regan at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in 1991 and are also known as Grätzel cells. Michael Grätzel won the 2010 Millennium Technology Prize for the invention of the Grätzel cell.

Because it is made of low-cost materials and does not require elaborate apparatus to manufacture, this cell is technically attractive. Likewise, manufacture can be significantly less expensive than older solid-state cell designs. It can also be engineered into flexible sheets and is mechanically robust, requiring no protection from minor events like hail or tree strikes. Although its conversion efficiency is less than the best thin-film cells, in theory its price/performance ratio (kWh/(m2·annum·dollar)) should be high enough to allow them to compete with fossil fuel electrical generation by achieving grid parity. Commercial applications, which were held up due to chemical stability problems, are now forecast in the European Union Photovoltaic Roadmap to significantly contribute to renewable electricity generation by 2020.

Grätzel’s cell is composed of a porous layer of titanium dioxide nanoparticles, covered with a molecular dye that absorbs sunlight, like the chlorophyll in green leaves. The titanium dioxide is immersed under an electrolyte solution, above which is a platinum-based catalyst. As in a conventional alkaline battery, an anode (the titanium dioxide) and a cathode (the platinum) are placed on either side of a liquid conductor (the electrolyte).

Sunlight passes through the transparent electrode into the dye layer where it can excite electrons that then flow into the titanium dioxide. The electrons flow toward the transparent electrode where they are collected for powering a load. After flowing through the external circuit, they are re-introduced into the cell on a metal electrode on the back, flowing into the electrolyte. The electrolyte then transports the electrons back to the dye molecules. Thus the electrical circuit loop is closed.

DSSCs are currently the most efficient third-generation solar technology available. Other thin-film technologies are typically between 5% and 13%, and traditional low-cost commercial silicon panels operate between 12% and 15%. This makes DSSCs attractive as a replacement for existing technologies in "low density" applications like rooftop solar collectors, where the mechanical robustness and light weight of the glass-less collector is a major advantage. They may not be as attractive for large-scale deployments where higher-cost higher-efficiency cells are more viable, but even small increases in the DSSC conversion efficiency might make them suitable for some of these roles as well.

See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dye-sensitized_solar_cell

Source: Wikipedia (All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License and Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)

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