If you are ever happen to find yourself in the presence of a solar array composed of experimental zinc oxide PV cells (which, in all likelihood you probably won’t anytime soon), feel free to grab your nearest, umm, boombox and pump up the jams in a big way. However, you can forget about classical, country, smooth jazz, or your grandpa’s old Lawrence Welk records as these solar cells seem to strictly benefit — harnessing sunlight and transforming it into electricity in a more efficient manner — from being subjected to blaring pop and rock music.
While experimenting with low-cost alternatives to standard silicon-based solar cells, researchers Steve Dunn of Queen Mary College and James Durrant of Imperial College London found that one promising yet highly inefficient silicone substitute, zinc oxide, was made 40 percent more efficient when exposed to Top 40 tunes. It’s a bump from 1.2 percent efficiency to 1.8 percent efficiency — tiny figures in the overall scheme of things but impressive nonetheless.
The bump in efficiency is due to the formation of nanoscale rod – “nanorods” — clusters within the zinc oxide cells that produce electricity when exposed to vibrations, particularly the vibrations produced by, let’s say, certified biohazard Katy Perry or space cadet Lady Gaga.
When it comes down to it, it’s all about the high-pitch frequencies produced by pop music. Elaborated Dunn: "We tried our initial tests with various types of music, including pop, rock and classical. Rock and pop were the most effective, perhaps because they have a wider range of frequencies. Using a signal generator to produce precisely measured sounds similar to ambient noise they saw a 50 per cent increase in efficiency, rising from 1.2 per cent without sound to 1.8 per cent with sound.”
Yessir, these panels prefer Miley over Mozart. There’s no word from Dunn and Durrant if the zinc oxide cells spontaneously burst into flames when exposed to Don Henley.
Dunn and Durrant, whose findings were recently published in the journal Advanced Materials, see the potential for low-cost printed solar cells made from zinc oxide to thrive not just in the presence of pop music played at full volume but also in acoustic vibration-heavy locales including next to roads and on top of air conditioning units.
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