Planet Earth

A New Strategy for Cheap Solar Power in Africa: Pokeberries

DiscoblogBy Darlene CavalierApr 26, 2010 7:46 PM

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Pokeberries, whose red dye was famously used by Civil War soldiers to write letters home, may enable the distribution of worldwide solar power. Researchers at Wake Forest University's Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials are using the red dye from this weedy plant's berries to coat their high-efficient, fiber-based solar cells, licensed by FiberCell, Inc. These fiber cells are composed of millions of tiny fibers that maximize the cell's surface area and trap light at almost any angle--so the slanting sun rays of morning and evening aren't wasted. The dye's absorbent qualities enhance the fibers' ability to trap sunlight, allowing the fiber cells to produce nearly twice the power that flat-cell technology produces. Because pokeberries can grow in almost any climate, they can be raised by residents in developing countries "who can make the dye absorber for the extremely efficient fiber cells and provide energy where power lines don’t run," said David Carroll, the center’s director. According to Newswise:

Pokeberries proliferate even during drought and in rocky, infertile soil. That means residents of rural Africa, for instance, could raise the plants for pennies.

The primary manufacturer of the fiber cells could stamp millions of plastic fibers onto a flexible, lightweight plastic sheet, then roll up and ship the sheet to a developing country, Carroll explains. Workers at local plants would then spray the pokeberry dye onto the fibers and prepare them for installation where ever power was needed. "It's a low-cost solar cell that can be made to work with local, low-cost agricultural crops like pokeberries and with a means of production that emerging economies can afford," added Carroll. Related Content: Discoblog: Copenhagen Hotel Lets Guests Pedal-Power Their Lightbulbs

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

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