Trees and Waste Plant Biomass Could Prove Key to Greener Solar Panels, Smart Windows, and More
Researchers at Aalto University, the University of British Columbia, the University of Turku, and the Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE) have published a review of how lignocellulose could be used to make everything from smart chemical-sensing windows to greener solar panels — turning trees or bio-waste into replacements for sand and plastic.
"We wanted to map out as comprehensively as possible how lignocellulose could replace the unrenewable resources found in widely used technology, like smart devices or solar cells," Jaana Vapaavuori, assistant professor of functional materials at Aalto University, explains of the review.
"Through combining properties of lignocellulose, we could create light-reactive surfaces for windows or materials that react to certain chemicals or steam. We could even make UV protectors that soak up radiation, acting like a sunblock on surfaces."
"We can actually add functionalities to lignocellulose and customise it more easily than glass," Kati Miettunen, professor of materials engineering at the University of Turku, adds. "For instance, if we could replace the glass in solar cells with lignocellulose, we could improve light absorption and achieve better operating efficiency."
The lignocellulose — taken from renewable wood or even the waste plant biomass from industry and agriculture — doesn't replace all the materials required for windows or solar panels, but it could potentially replace a selection of the non-renewable materials required in their manufacture.
There is a key stumbling block, however: Lignocellulose, like trees themselves, is thirsty. "Cellulose loves water," Vapaavuori explains of one of the issues that will need to be overcome on the path to commercialization. "To use it in optical applications, we need to find a way make it stable in humid conditions."
The team's work has been published under open-access terms in the journal Advanced Materials.