It is a natural wonder that most people take for granted.
But for Prof Michael Grätzel, the Swiss pioneer of “artificial photosynthesis” and the winner of the 2012 Albert Einstein World Award of Science, this ordinary occurrence of plants capturing sunlight and turning it into fuel was the inspiration behind a new type of solar cell making waves in the field of renewable energy.
Prof Grätzel, the Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Energy Research Institute @ NTU (ERI@N), is one of the most highly cited chemists around the world for his work in this area, and for his vision and achievements, he was conferred an honorary Degree of Doctor of Engineering by NTU in 2011.
He now wears an additional hat at NTU as adviser of the Centre for Nanostructured Photosystems, where he is building on his research and leading a team of researchers working on innovative methods of harvesting solar energy that could lead to more efficient solar cells.
Jointly operated by ERI@N, the School of Materials Science & Engineering and the School of Physical & Mathematical Sciences, the centre represents another key investment by NTU in the field of sustainable energy and it will work with industry partners to develop clean energy systems of the future.
Prof Grätzel is the inventor of the “Grätzel cell”. Grätzel cells mimic the ability of plants to capture photons of light and turn them into electricity. This is achieved by using special dyes to capture the energy in light at different wavelengths, just like chlorophyll pigments in plants.
As compared to conventional silicon solar cells, Grätzel cells have the ability to capture weaker sunlight. They can also be integrated into liquids and gels, hence allowing solar cells to be tinted and installed on window panels. Industry experts believe that Grätzel cells are a promising alternative to today’s standard silicon solar cells because of their low production cost.
For blazing the way in the field of solar energy research and bringing progress to mankind, Prof Grätzel has been presented two prestigious accolades – the Albert Einstein World Award of Science from the World Cultural Council and the Wilhelm Exner Medal from the Austrian Association für SME (Oesterreichischer Gewerbeverein (OGV). Both awards have gone to top scientists, including Nobel laureates.
Prof Grätzel, who comes from the Laboratory of Photonics and Interfaces at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, is also a recipient of several other international research accolades including the prestigious 2010 Millennium Technology Prize, the Harvey Prize of Technion (2007) and the Millennium 2000 European innovation prize.
As the author of over 800 publications and the inventor of more than 50 patents to date, Prof Grätzel is also one of the most highly cited chemists around the world with more than 60,000 citations recorded.