Graphene 'Paint' Could Power Future Homes with Solar Energy

First Posted: May 03, 2013 11:44 AM EDT

Graphene is the new wonder material of the future. It can mop up oil spills, be used as lubricant and now, it could be used to power our homes. Researchers have discovered that by combining graphene with other one-atom thick materials, they can create the next generation of solar cells and optoelectronic devices.

Graphene is the world's thinnest, strongest and most conductive material. Not surprisingly, it holds enormous potential to revolutionize a huge number of diverse applications--everything from smartphones to drug delivery and computer chips. In addition, the isolation of graphene has also led to the discovery of a whole new family of one-atom thick materials.

These materials, collectively known as 2D crystals, demonstrate a vast range of superlative properties. When combined in layers, these materials can add new functions to the material with each new addition. Called heterostructures, these layered materials are ideal for creating new devices that can perform a variety of things at once. That's why researchers decided to utilize these heterostructures in particular to design their latest creation.

The researchers combined graphene with monolayers of transition and metal dichalcogenides (TMDC), which allowed them to create very sensitive and efficient photovoltaic devices. These devices could potentially be used as ultrasensitive photodetectors or very efficient solar cells.

"Such photoactive heterostructures add yet new possibilities, and pave the road for new types of experiments," said Kostya Novoselov, one of the researchers, in a news release. "As we create more and more complex heterostructures, so the functionalities of the devices will become richer, entering the realm of multifunctional devices."

Although the applications are exciting, the more interesting point is how this new material could affect the future of sustainable energy. The multi-layered heterostructures could, in theory, be "painted" onto an outside wall and power entire buildings as they absorb the sun's rays. In addition, the material could be used at will to change the transparency and reflectivity of fixtures and windows, which could lead to a whole new era of controlling environmental factors within an office or house.

Don't get excited just yet, though. It will take quite some time before this material could be scaled up to accomplish such feats. In the meantime, we'll have to subsist on standard solar panels in order to harness the sun's energy.

The details of this new material are published in the journal Science.

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