My research project
Modern renewable energy sources have a great disadvantage of being intermittent. Harvesting solar energy directly using photovoltaic panels is one of the most promising renewable energy technologies. While this allows electricity generation during daytime when the sky is clear, at night there is no production at all and it is greatly diminished in cloudy or rainy conditions. Recently a concept of all-weather solar cells was proposed by Q. Tang et al. (Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 55(17) (2016) 5243-5246) in which a solar panel was covered with a layer of graphene. This allows collecting energy from falling raindrops containing dissolved salts through charging and discharging of an electrical double layer at the water-graphene interface, which acts as a pseudocapacitor. Although this setup allows harvesting both direct solar radiation and some of the kinetic energy of falling rain drops, the output is low for realistic salt concentrations while the graphene layer diminishes the solar-to-electric conversion rate. In this work, we propose a different approach to the same problem. Instead of relying on a sufficient concentration of salts in rain water, we propose to convert the mechanical energy delivered by drop impacts directly into electrical energy by supporting a thin-layer solar panel with an array of piezo crystals. The advantage of this setup is that the solar-to-electric performance of such a panel is not affected by the added piezoelectric support. However, only a fraction of the kinetic energy of the falling rain drops can be converted due to the energy dissipation within the material of the thin-layer panel. We have conducted detailed modelling of kinetic energy harvesting process from the drop impact and spreading to the dissipation of mechanical strain through the panel to the generation of piezoelectric potential. The results illustrate the viability of this concept, but they are still to be confirmed experimentally and require an economic feasibility analysis to be performed.