Researchers at Queen Mary University and Imperial College London have published an article in Advanced Materials showing that solar cells made from zinc oxide actually perform better and produce more electricity when exposed to pop music.
Zinc oxide solar cells usually only have an efficiency of around 1.2% – nowhere near that of silicon cells – but are cheaper to make and easier to work with, so are attractive potential replacements for silicon.
Here, researchers have taken advantage of an particular property of zinc oxide – nanoscale rods of the substance move when exposed to any sort of mechanical stress, including sound vibrations. This generates an electric field, and allows the device to generate electricity, and is an example of the piezoelectric effect.
The solar cells were exposed to a variety of different music genres – such as rock and classical – but pop proved to be the most effective, raising the efficiency to 1.8%.
This is an interesting discovery, and solar cells of this type could find use in noisy public places, where their efficiency would be increased.
Zinc oxide cells only have a tiny efficiency at the moment, meaning they aren’t going to be particularly useful right now, but if this can be improved, extra benefits such as their piezoelectric properties could lead to some significant applications in the future.