RALEIGH, N.C., Sept. 24 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers say flexible, water-gel-based "solar leaves" could be less expensive and more environmentally friendly than silicon-based solar cells.
Researchers at North Carolina State University say the bendable devices are composed of water-based gel infused with light-sensitive molecules coupled with electrodes coated by carbon materials, a NCSU release reports.
The molecules get "excited" by the sun's rays to produce electricity, similar to the way plant molecules get excited to synthesize sugars in order to grow, Orlin Velev, a professor of chemical and bio-molecular engineering, says.
The team hopes to "learn how to mimic the materials by which nature harnesses solar energy," Velev says.
Now that they've proven the concept, the researchers will work to fine-tune the water-based photovoltaic devices, making them even more like real leaves.
"The next step is to mimic the self-regenerating mechanisms found in plants," Velev says.
"We do not want to over-promise at this stage, as the devices are still of relatively low efficiency and there is a long way to go before this can become a practical technology," he says.
"However, we believe that the concept of biologically inspired 'soft' devices for generating electricity may in the future provide an alternative for the present-day solid-state technologies," Velev says.