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New green materials could power smart devices using ambient light

In our homes, offices and public buildings, we are increasingly using smarter devices such as smartphones, smart speakers and wearable health and wellness sensors. However, the batteries they use can drain quickly and contain toxic and rare chemicals that are harmful to the environment. So researchers are looking for better ways to power the devices.

One way to power them is to convert indoor light from ordinary light bulbs into energy, much like how solar panels extract energy from sunlight, known as solar photovoltaics. However, due to the different properties of the light sources, the materials used for solar panels are not suitable for harvesting indoor light.

Now, researchers at Imperial College London, Soochow University in China and the University of Cambridge have found that new green materials currently being developed for next-generation solar panels could be useful for indoor light collection. They report on their results in Advanced Energy Materials.

The co-author Dr. Robert Hoye of Imperial’s Materials Department said: “By efficiently absorbing the light from lamps commonly found in homes and buildings, the materials we studied can convert light into electricity with an efficiency already in the range of We have also identified several potential improvements that would allow these materials to outperform current indoor photovoltaic technologies in the near future. “

The team investigated “perovskite-inspired materials,” designed to circumvent problems with materials called perovskites, designed for next-generation solar cells. Although perovskites are cheaper to manufacture than traditional silicon-based solar modules and offer similar efficiency, perovskites contain toxic lead substances. This led to the development of perovskite-inspired materials based instead on safer elements like bismuth and antimony.

While these perovskite-inspired materials are more environmentally friendly, they don’t absorb sunlight as efficiently. However, the team found that the materials were much more effective at absorbing interior light and had promising efficiencies for commercial applications. It was crucial that the researchers showed that the performance of these materials in indoor lighting is already sufficient to operate electronic circuits.

Co-author Professor Vincenzo Pecunia from Soochow University said: “Our discovery opens a whole new direction in the search for environmentally friendly, easy-to-manufacture materials to run our smart devices in a sustainable way.

“In addition to being environmentally friendly, these materials could potentially be processed on unconventional substrates such as plastics and fabrics that are incompatible with conventional technologies. Therefore, lead-free, perovskite-inspired materials could soon enable self-powered devices for wearables, health monitoring, smart homes and smart cities. “

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