TU Graz working on new solar cell and battery hybrid

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Starting out as the core topic of a project backed by the Climate and Energy Fund, the SolaBat is now peaking interest at the TU Graz, as the prospect of a solar cell and energy storage hybrid device looms. A team, led by Illie Hanzu from TU Graz’s Institute of Chemistry and Technology of Materials, is delving into the scientific unknown, with lofty ambitions of creating a device that could be used for various energy applications.

The team’s goal is to create a hybrid device, using two single systems assembled together; one to convert electrical energy, and the other store it. What stands this project apart from other similar attempts at a hybrid device is the new combination of materials. “In the hybrid system high-performance materials share their tasks in the solar cell and in the battery,” said Hanzu. “We need materials which reliably fulfil their respective tasks and which are also electrochemically compatible with other materials so that they work together in one device.”

With this in mind, the SolaBat uses eco-friendly titanates as the active materials. However, there is uncertainty about what will happen when the materials contact each other, which is why the Institute of Chemistry and Technology of Materials has partnered up with the Centre for Electron Microscopy to help with the project.

A hybrid system that combines solar cells with batteries would have a number of exciting benefits, not least saving space and simplicity, which would be a great improvement on current single systems in place. “Currently single systems of photovoltaic cells which are connected together – mostly lead-based batteries and vast amounts of cable – are in use,” said Hanzu. “Solar panels on the roof with a battery in the cellar. This takes up a lot of space, needs frequent maintenance and is not optimally efficient.”

Most importantly, a successful photovoltaic battery hybrid would be able to negate the common reproach aimed at solar, that it is ineffective without sunlight, and even though it is still in an early stage of development, the TU Graz team is optimistic that the SolaBat could be used for a number of purposes. “Where exactly such a system will find application – as in many basic research projects – is too early to say, but the possibilities are in any case manifold,” added Hanzu.