The ocean, an enigmatic world that covers over 70% of our planet, yet remains largely unexplored, continues to beguile human curiosity. Despite our remarkable technological progress, we’ve managed to map only around five percent of the world’s oceans. It’s a realm shrouded in mystery, and our quest to uncover its secrets has led researchers to an innovative, green solution—solar power.
A recently published research paper in Nature Photonics, titled “A dive into underwater solar cells,” delves into the potential of utilizing solar power for underwater vehicles. The work is spearheaded by Jason A. Röhr and André Taylor from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at NYU Tandon.
Solar Power: A Shining Solution
Various marine technologies like wave and tidal power have shown promise, but their application is often limited by location dependency and lack of portability. In contrast, solar power provides a ubiquitous and powerful energy source, capable of reaching depths up to 50 meters.
The researchers at NYU Tandon have explored the potential of solar cells for underwater applications. They highlight successful implementations in powering Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) and communication devices while addressing the challenges inherent to this integration.
A significant challenge lies in the design of existing silicon solar technology, which isn’t ideal for underwater use. Beyond the general issues posed by moisture and salt content, silicon solar cells are optimized to absorb red and infrared light—wavelengths that don’t penetrate water effectively.
The team suggests alternative technologies like gallium indium phosphide (GaInP) and cadmium telluride (CdTe) as they exhibit higher efficiency in oceanic conditions. Next-generation solar cells, such as organic and perovskite solar cells (OSCs and PSCs), are also under consideration.
Another challenge is biofouling—the accumulation of organic substances on the cells, which obstructs light access and impedes the photovoltaic process. This buildup also affects submerged vehicles by increasing weight and generating hydrodynamic resistance.
The research team has addressed these challenges with practical solutions. They’ve used LED lights to simulate the underwater light spectrum during testing, thus eliminating the need for actual water.
Their experiments have shown that silicon-based solar cells perform better at shallow depths, while other cell types are more efficient below two meters.
While these specially designed underwater solar cells are still in their infancy, the research marks an important step towards groundbreaking technologies that could revolutionize our exploration of the oceans.
Our oceans are a vast, uncharted frontier, but with the power of the sun guiding us, we might just illuminate its enigmatic depths. The future of ocean exploration is brighter than ever, thanks to these remarkable advancements in solar power technology.