Without a doubt the most efficient solar cells on the planet are tree leaves, so researchers are constantly trying to mimic them for various reasons. One of those reasons is not particularly obvious, but definitely worth considering: recycling. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Purdue University have successfully manufactured solar cells on an organic substrate which can be washed away.
As important as the photoelectric material in a solar panel is the substrate that supports it. To be effective it has to be clear and strong enough to protect the material beneath it, but when the panel has reached the end of its lifecycle, disposing of it can be difficult. This is what the researchers have addressed by developing a cellulose nanocrystal (CNC) substrate which dissolves in room temperature water. Plastics and glass are the current standard substrate for organic solar cells, but are quite difficult to recover when the cell is to be destroyed.
Currently the solar cells produced on the CNC substrate had an efficiency of just 2.7%, which is high for solar cells using a renewable substrate. The researchers' next goal is to break 10% efficiency, and directly challenge glass and plastic substrate solar cells.
Source: Georgia Institute of Technology