Breaking Down Crab Shells Could Improve Solar Technology

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Solar technology is continuing to expand, showing us that solar power has many, varied potential applications. From solar-powered phones, to gadget chargers, and to water heaters, there are many practical, cost-effective applications for solar power out there today. But there is still much room for improvement in solar technology, and what we are learning in many areas of science is that the answer to the problem might, in fact, lie in nature. Research and development of solar technology is a huge area of the R&D field. One of the biggest problems researchers are working on is creating a flexible panel that does not lose efficiency as it is exposed to heat.

At Kyoto University in Japan, researches have found an interesting composite that might just meet these requirements in an unlikely place — a crab shell. A crab shell was put through a number of different chemical washes and was broken down into a material called chitin. The chitin is combined with a resin to create the desired compound. This material can then be formed into a flexible sheet that could have applications in solar panels, improving the efficiency of the technology. Researchers also believe that this chitin/resin material could also have many applications within the electronics community.

The chitin/resin panel is not only flexible, allowing for, well, flexibility in the use of these panels, but it maintains its efficiency, even when hot. The traditional composite currently used in most panels has been shown to lose well over half its conductivity when heated to a certain temperature. The chitin/resin panel can withstand far higher temperatures without any reduction in efficiency. This might seem like the perfect solution to improve solar technology, however, there is a limited supply of chitin.

Researchers propose that waste from seafood factories and the use of chitin that can be derived from a number of different sources could be used to create these panels. But a major impediment is not only the finite nature of this resource, but the acidification of the ocean, which is causing big changes in the ocean environment, as well as the shells of crabs and other crustaceans. It is interesting to note that some think that the increased acidification of the oceans is at least, in part, as a result of the development of electronics and the resulting chemicals and effluent waste that often makes its way from manufacturers to the ocean.

Image Credit: Tropic~7

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