Crystals May Lead to Cheap Solar Cells

It was thought to be nearly impossible, but researchers have grown the world's first titanium oxide crystals with large reactive surface areas.

Titanium crystal barTitanium crystal bar According to Professor Max Lu of the University of Queensland's Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, titania nanocrystals are promising materials for cost-effective solar cells. Having large reactive areas gives the crystals a high energy conversion efficiency, making solar energy conversion more cost-effective.

Lu explained that the method is like cooking the crystals in an oven, resulting in a flowing material that could literally be applied like paint.

Besides being useful in solar cells, the crystals could also have applications in hydrogen production from splitting water, as well as air and water purification. The same principle that the crystals use to convert sunlight into energy also enables the crystals to break down pollutants in air and water.

"One could paint these crystals onto a window or a wall to purify the air in a room," Lu said in a press release. "The potential of applications of this technology in water purification and recycling are huge."

He added that it would be about five years for water and air purification products to be commercially available, and about 5 to 10 years for solar cells.

The research is published in a recent issue of Nature.