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Freeze-cast titanium oxide foams in microgravity

The development of an efficient, cost effective solar cell has practical implications for renewable energy production. Today, the low efficiency of dye sensitized solar cells increases the price per watt usage; they are an unattractive alternative to cheaper, non-renewable energy sources. Traditional silicon-based photovoltaic technology is too expensive for global implementation and involves environmental hazards during production. Increasing the efficiency of DSSCs would provide renewable energy that is market competitive.

Freeze-casting is an ice-templating technique that has recently gained much attention due to its simplistic, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly approach. The three-step process consists of: 1) solidification, 2) sublimation, and 3) densification. Solidification is arguably the most critical step in the process, as the pore morphology and pore size of the final product is largely governed by the operational conditions during this stage. Varying the strength of the gravitational field causes adjustment in the transport mechanisms dominating solid formation. Titanium oxide foams were solidified in a microgravity environment in an effort increase the homogeneity of pore distribution and reduce both tortuosity and defect sites. It is expected that integrating foams created in microgravity as electrode material in dye sensitized solar cells will result in higher photon absorption and higher electron transport rates as a result of improved crystalinity.


October 8, 2014