Scientists from the University of Manchester and the National University of Singapore have shown that graphene can be used to generate energy from the sun in the form of paint.
The world's strongest, thinnest and most conductive material, graphene, may indeed revolutionize everything from computer chips to smartphones. Graphene aerogel was recently proclaimed the lightest material on Earth and researchers have also recently created the first graphene headphones. Now scientists are looking at what implications graphene might hold for energy production.
The discovery of graphene, which took place in 2004, quickly led to the additional discovery of a number of materials with a thickness of just one atom. Layered on top of each other, these materials lead to heterostructures with a new array of functions. By combining graphene with monolayers of transition and metal dichalcogenides (TMDC), the researchers were able to create highly efficient photovoltaic devices that could be used as ultrasensitive photodetectors, or highly efficient solar cells.
"Such photoactive heterostructures add yet new possibilities, and pave the road for new types of experiments," researcher Kostya Novoselov said in a news release. "As we create more and more complex heterostructures, so the functionalities of the devices will become richer, entering the realm of multifunctional devices."
The discovery means that graphene could one day be used to paint buildings with heterostructures that would absorb sunlight and draw power. The material could also be used to alter the reflectivity and transparency of windows and fixtures. This, of course, would have wide implications for environmental control.
"We are sure that as we research more into the area of 2D atomic crystals we will be able to identify more of such complimentary materials and create more complex heterostructures with multiple functionalities," Director of the Graphene Research Centre at the National University of Singapore, Professor Antonio Castro Neto said. "This is really an open field and we will explore it."
It will take some time before the discovery can be practically applied, however, leaving us with solar panels to draw the sun's energy for now.
The discovery is detailed in the journal Science.