A new study published in the latest issue of the journal Advanced Materials highlights an unusual performance enhancement to solar cells that is reminiscent of gardening Maharishi Chris Beardshaw’s “Black Sabbath” approach to boosting blooms. According to scientists at Queen Mary University of London and Imperial College London, playing pop and rock music increases the efficiency of solar cells, as the high frequencies and pitch inherent to these genres cause vibrations in the cells that boost energy generation as much as 40 percent.
The study appears in an article entitled, “Acoustic Enhancement of Polymer/ZnO Nanorod Photovoltaic Device Performance,” and the findings have implications for improving energy generation from sunlight, above all for the development of new, less expensive, printed solar cells.
The researchers cultivated billions of “nanorods” made from zinc oxide, and then covered them with an active polymer to form a device that converts sunlight into electricity. Leveraging the unique characteristics of the zinc oxide material, the team demonstrated that sound levels as low as 75 decibels could considerably improve the solar cell performance.
“After investigating systems for converting vibrations into electricity this is a really exciting development that shows a similar set of physical properties can also enhance the performance of a photovoltaic,” said Doctor Steve Dunn, Reader in Nanoscale Materials from Queen Mary’s School of Engineering and Materials Science.
Previously, researchers demonstrated that applying pressure or tension to zinc oxide materials could result in voltage outputs, which is known in scientific parlance as the “piezoelectric effect.” The current study gives the effect of these piezoelectric voltages on solar cell efficiency the significant attention it did not receive before.
“We thought the [sound waves], which produce random fluctuations, would cancel each other out and so didn’t expect to see any significant overall effect on the power output,” said James Durrant, Professor of Photochemistry at Imperial College London, and coauthor on the study. “The key for us was that not only that the random fluctuations from the sound didn’t cancel each other out, but also that some frequencies of sound seemed really to amplify the solar cell output – so that the increase in power was a remarkably big effect considering how little sound energy we put in.”
“The work highlights the benefits of collaboration to develop new and interesting systems and scientific understanding,” Doctor Dunn added.
This remarkable discovery could be used to power devices that are routinely exposed to acoustic vibrations, such as air conditioning units, automobiles, and other vehicles.