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Caffeine can pep up the performance of solar cells © Getty Images

Caffeine can pep up the performance of solar cells

Published: 07th May, 2019 at 00:00
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It's not just humans that work better with caffeine - solar cells do, too.

There’s no doubt many of us would struggle to get through the afternoon without a grande latte or shot of espresso to perk us up. And according to a study by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), solar cells get a similar boost in performance by almost 20 per cent from a hit of caffeine.

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Following an offhand comment made by one of the researchers mid-coffee break, the team decided to investigate the possibility of using caffeine to boost the performance of the perovskite solar cells they were working on.

Perovskite is a type of crystal with a specific kind of geometrical structure that can be created using inexpensive elements and used to produce solar cells that are cheaper to produce and more flexible than the more traditional method using silicon.

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Previous attempts to improve the efficiency of perovskite solar cells by introducing other compounds have all ended in failure but the team hit upon instant success when using caffeine.

“We were surprised by the results. During our first try incorporating caffeine, our perovskite solar cells already reached almost the highest efficiency we achieved in the paper,” said Wang. “Caffeine can help the perovskite achieve high crystallinity, low defects, and good stability. This means it can potentially play a role in the scalable production of perovskite solar cells.”

After investigating the internal structure of the solar cells, the team found that molecules within the caffeine bonded to lead atoms within the crystal, boosting the solar cell efficiency from 17 per cent to more than 20 per cent.

The team now plans to tweak the material further with the hope of producing even more efficient solar cells.


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Authors

Jason Goodyer
Jason GoodyerCommissioning editor, BBC Science Focus

Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.

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