Science 3 min read

New Study: Caffeine Increases Efficiency of Solar Cells

It may seem like a caffeine-fueled hallucination, but a new study has shown that coffee can have a positive effect on the efficiency of certain solar cells.

The solar cells the researchers enhanced with caffeine. | Image Credit: Rui Wang and Jingjing Xue

The solar cells the researchers enhanced with caffeine. | Image Credit: Rui Wang and Jingjing Xue

Every day, most of us rely on coffee to increase our efficiency and boost productivity. However, you don’t need to be human – or alive for that matter – to enjoy this refreshing boost.

According to researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, caffeine has a similar effect on solar cells.

Sounds like a stretch, right?

This experiment all started as a discussion about perovskite solar cells over a cup of coffee.

One of the researchers, Jingjing Xue, recalled that his colleague Rui Wang said, ‘If we need coffee to boost our energy then what about perovskites? Would they need coffee to perform better?’

Perovskite materials, with its unique crystal structure, is responsible for harvesting light in a class of solar cells. For years, researchers have been trying to enhance the material to increase the solar cell’s efficiency and stability.

While previous attempts included introducing dimethyl sulfoxide into the perovskite material, no one ever considered caffeine, until now.

The offhand comment led to deeper contemplation.

The researchers noted that the molecular structure of the caffeine, as an alkaloid compound, could interact with the precursors of perovskite materials.

Realizing that they might be on to something new, they set aside their coffee to experiment.

Using Caffeine To Boost the Efficiency Of Solar Cells

First, they added caffeine to the perovskite layer of forty solar cells. Then, they used infrared spectroscopy to ensure that the material bonded with the caffeine successfully.

Upon further test using the infrared spectroscopy, the researchers noticed a “molecular lock” formed from the interaction of the carbonyl group in caffeine and the lead ions in the layer. That was the trick.

Since the interaction between the carbonyl group and lead ion increased the minimum amount of energy that the perovskite film needed to react, the efficiency of the solar cell rose from 17 percent to over 20 percent.

Also, the molecular lock did not break when the researchers heated the material, which means a high temperature can’t break down the layer.

The researchers were both surprised and excited.

Ph.D. candidate in the research group at UCLA, Wang said;

“During our first try incorporating caffeine, our perovskite solar cells already reached almost the highest efficiency we achieved in the paper.”

As thrilling as it all sounds, the study raises an essential question;

Can caffeine boost the performance of other types of solar cells?

Unfortunately not. According to the publication in the journal Joule, it only works with perovskite solar cells. Caffeine has a unique molecular structure, which only allows it to interact with perovskite precursors.

As a result, only solar cells made from the material can enjoy the caffeine-powered boost.

Read More: New Type Of Silicon Could Cut the Cost of Solar Technology

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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