How Scientists Are Using Peppermint Oil To Improve Solar Panels

mbg Editorial Assistant By Eliza Sullivan
mbg Editorial Assistant
Eliza Sullivan is an Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She has bachelor's degrees in journalism and english literature from Boston University.
Solar Panels

Image by Shikhar Bhattarai / Stocksy

While solar energy may be a long term solution for finding cleaner energy, the current process for making the panels that convert sunlight into useable energy isn't very clean itself.

But a team of scientists in South Korea have found a way to replace one of the more dangerous substances used in making solar panels with an essential oil you're probably familiar with: peppermint oil.

The research, which was published this week in Advanced Energy Materials, found peppermint oil can be used in place of a chemical solvent that is currently used in the production of solar panels.

On the panels, there is a photoactive layer, which allows them to absorb the energy from sunlight. Currently, these panels are made using a chemical-based solvent in production, and the mineral used to create solar cells, perovskite, includes lead which can leak as the cells age.

In an effort to rectify these challenges, the researchers designed a new polymer to use in production which can be dissolved with peppermint oil, removing the potentially toxic chemical solvent from the process. Using this process, they were able to produce solar panels that reached 19.9% efficiency. The average efficiency of traditional panels sits somewhere around 15-18%, so this is a marked improvement on the previous technology.

The peppermint soluble polymers have additional benefits too. They're more stable than conventional panels in the face of water, and they sustain energy production better when wet as well. According to the report, over a 30 day test the new-style panels maintained 88% efficiency, but that they also held the lead from leaking better than traditionally produced panels.

The environmental and stability challenges of conventional panels have limited mass production of this technology, but the researchers believe their new production technique may help solve those problems.

"When we use green solvent in the production process and prevent lead generated by the aged perovskite solar cells with a polymer, we can solve environmental issues of the high efficiency perovskite solar cells and mass produce them," said Junwoo Lee, who lead the research.

While we may soon see peppermint oil produced solar panels becoming the norm, it's still going to take time for solar energy itself to become a norm in places it can. To make your home more sustainable today, try these 10 ways to be more sustainable today or get your own zero-waste kit going.

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