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If you want to make nanostructured solar cells it only makes sense to use the materials chitin and chitosan found in shrimp shells, which are abundant and significantly cheaper to produce.

The crustacean-based materials are much less costly than the expensive metals such as ruthenium, which is similar to platinum, and currently used in making nanostructured solar-cells.

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The problem is the efficiency of solar cells made with the biomass-derived materials is low but researchers are working to improve their efficiency. If that occurs, then they could end up placed in everything from wearable chargers for tablets, phones and smartwatches, to semi-transparent films over window.

Researchers from Queen Mary University of London’s (QMUL) School of Engineering and Materials Science, used a process known as hydrothermal carbonization to create the carbon quantum dots (CQDs) from the widely and cheaply available chemicals found in crustacean shells. They then coat standard zinc oxide nanorods with the CQDs to make the solar cells.

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“This could be a great new way to make these versatile, quick and easy to produce solar cells from readily available, sustainable materials,” said Dr. Joe Briscoe, one of the researchers on the project. “Once we’ve improved their efficiency they could be used anywhere that solar cells are used now, particularly to charge the kinds of devices people carry with them every day.

“New techniques mean that we can produce exciting new materials from organic by-products that are already easily available,” said Professor Magdalena Titirici, professor of sustainable materials technology at QMUL. “Sustainable materials can be both high-tech and low-cost.”

“We’ve also used biomass, in that case algae, to make the kinds of supercapacitors that can be used to store power in consumer electronics, in defibrillators and for energy recovery in vehicles.”

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