The University of British Columbia Okanagan is working on the next generation of solar technology.
UBCO researchers are studying the best way to convert solar energy technologies into more effective products.
At approximately 150 million kilometres away, the sun is Earth’s closest star and is capable of creating enough power to provide all of the planet’s energy.
Converting that sunlight into energy remains a challenge that has inspired UBCO researcher Dr. Robert Godin to examine the effectiveness of different green energy-producing technologies, like solar panels and photosynthesis.
Dr. Godin, an assistant professor of chemistry based in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science, and his team of researchers took a closer look at existing solar energy technologies to determine which materials perform best.
“Part of the challenge with this type of research is the way different solar energy conversion technologies work—each is completely distinct,” explains Dr. Godin. “It’s not obvious how, or even if, you can compare photovoltaics—which generate electricity—to photocatalysts, which generate high energy chemical fuels such as hydrogen.”
While examining a range of conversion devices, the team managed to determine how long in a device’s lifetime the excited state generated by light irradiation stuck around, and how long it took to complete the energy conversion process. Then, the team compared that ratio to the energy lost to make it happen.
“We were able to establish a clear link between these values—and that wasn’t something we were expecting going into the study,” says Dr. Godin. “This link between the ratio of lifetimes and energetic losses was found across all the different types of solar energy conversion devices we looked at—even machinery in natural photosynthesis systems.”
The findings may help to speed up the development of new and better solar energy technologies.
“Being able to tell early on whether a new material has the potential to surpass current technology will greatly speed up the ability to move the best technologies into the marketplace—and as conversion technologies like solar panels become more mainstream, the less society will need to rely on the production of environmentally devastating fossil fuels.”