Ohio State University researchers report that they have succeeded in combining a battery and a solar cell into one hybrid device.

Key to the innovation is a mesh solar panel, which allows air to enter the battery, and a special process for transferring electrons between the solar panel and the battery electrode. Inside the device, light and oxygen enable different parts of the chemical reactions that charge the battery.

The university will license the solar battery to industry, where Yiying Wu, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Ohio State, says it will help tame the costs of renewable energy.

“The state of the art is to use a solar panel to capture the light, and then use a cheap battery to store the energy,” Wu said. “We’ve integrated both functions into one device. Any time you can do that, you reduce cost.”

During charging, light hits the mesh solar panel and creates electrons. Inside the battery, electrons are involved in the chemical decomposition of lithium peroxide into lithium ions and oxygen. The oxygen is released into the air, and the lithium ions are stored in the battery as lithium metal after capturing the electrons.

When the battery discharges, it chemically consumes oxygen from the air to re-form the lithium peroxide. An iodide additive in the electrolyte acts as a “shuttle” that carries electrons, and transports them between the battery electrode and the mesh solar panel.

The use of the additive represents a distinct approach on improving the battery performance and efficiency, the team said. The invention eliminates the loss of electricity that normally occurs when electrons have to travel between a solar cell and an external battery.

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