New research from East China Normal University suggests spicy solar cells might work more efficiently.
Scientists treated solar cells with capsaicin, the compound responsible for the mouth-burning heat of chili peppers. As a result, the solar cells were more efficient at converting sunlight into electricity.
One important clarification is that these researchers are working with 'perovskite' solar cells, which you can think of as a more 'organic' type of solar cell. The most common solar panel you see out in the world are made of silicon solar cells, which require more energy and rare elements to manufacture. Perovskite solar cells can be made with simpler wet chemistry techniques in a traditional lab environment (in some cases, even with an ink-jet printer).
So, haven't you heard of perovskite cells before?
Silicon solar cells are still the most efficient on the market (over 22%). This means they more efficiently convert sunlight into electricity. Technically, perovskite solar cells beat silicon’s efficiency at absorbing sunlight, but has issues turning that sunlight into electricity - because it loses too much electricity as heat. You typically want solar cells and solar panels to stay as cool as possible.
(Photo: Cayenne Diane)
This is where the chili peppers come in.
Scientists applied a thin layer of capsaicin and found their perovskite solar cells became more efficient at turning solar energy into electricity. The exact reason why is still being debated. The research team hypothesizes that capsaicin molecules react with the lead ions in the solar cell to free up more electrons to conduct current.