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Aussie researchers may have just increased solar storage by 3000%

Researchers at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) have developed a plant-inspired graphene electrode that could boost solar storage by up to 3000 percent.

According to a statement released by RMIT, the new electrode is designed to work with supercapacitors, which can charge and discharge power much faster than conventional batteries.

In the past, supercapacitors have been combined with solar technology, but their wider use as a storage solution has been limited by their capacity.

Professor Min Gu, co- author of the study, said that the electrode’s design drew on nature’s own solution to the problem of filling space efficiently.

The way nature does this is through fractals, intricate and detailed patterns that are trippy AF. Here is an example of the most famous fractal of all, the “Mandlebrot Set”. Crank up your favorite psychedelic rock and watch it go:

Rather than using the Mandelbrot set, this electrode opted for a simpler fractal found in Polystichum munitum, a native western North American fern. Gu said:

The leaves of the western swordfern are densely crammed with veins, making them extremely efficient for storing energy and transporting water around the plant… Our electrode is based on these fractal shapes – which are self-replicating, like the mini structures within snowflakes – and we’ve used this naturally efficient design to improve solar energy storage at a nano level.

As well as increasing storage by up to 3000 percent, the electrodes can hold a stored charge for longer, with minimal leakage.

What does this mean for us?

Litty Thekkekara, a PhD researcher and lead author of the study, said that because the prototype was based on flexible thin film technology, its potential applications were countless.

One of the problems with current solar cells is that they tend to be on the bulky side. If this prototype is integrated with thin solar film it could result in solar power that is used almost anywhere, for example in buildings, cars and smartphones.

Just imagine a world that runs on clean energy, and all without pesky chargers.

As a place that gets plenty of sun, Australia is well poised to take advantage of solar technology. And the good news is that ABC reports that solar is about to boom here, with seven large-scale projects being completed last year, and plenty more in the works.

Unfortunately, the solar boom is not well supported by the current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Seven years ago, Turnbull stated that all of our energy should come from zero or near-zero emission sources. Now he slags off South Australia for relying on renewables and advocates “clean” coal (spoiler: it’s not really clean).

Turnbull can deny the facts all he wants. It won’t make coal any cleaner.

About the author

Stefan is an Adelaide-based freelance writer. In his spare time, he plays tennis badly, collects vinyl and brushes up on his Mandarin. Follow Stefan on Twitter

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