Could Red Wine Waste be Used to Create Photovoltaic Cells?

Sustainability has been a major topic in the Italian wine industry for a number of years now.

You can see this with the increasing trend towards organic and biodynamic farming in the industry. Italian wine producers have an increasing concern for the quality of their land and they recognise that the use of chemicals could lead to irreparable damage that affects both the natural ecosystem and the quality of the wines that they produce.

The drive towards sustainability also rears its head when it comes to production methods. Producers constantly look for ways to make their methods more energy-efficient, both as a means to save money and because it’s a great branding tool amongst the environmentally-conscious.

Of course, this drive mirrors global sentient. Younger generations, in particular, are more aware of the effect that humans have on the planet than ever before. We’re seeing more households adopt renewable energy sources and millions of people now recycle on a daily basis in an effort to cut down their carbon emissions.

The topic of renewable energy sources is an interesting one as investing in them could have a profound effect in Italian wine producers. If they don’t have to pay for energy that comes from fossil fuels, they could lower the costs of production immensely.

And then there are the marketing and branding opportunities that we mentioned earlier.

Now, here’s the really interesting part.

It looks like the Italian wine industry could be more than just a beneficiary of the drive towards sustainability. It could actually be a contributor to the point where it affects the move towards renewable energy sources on a global scale.

How Can the Italian Wine Industry Help?

According to an innovative startup, it may be possible to create photovoltaic cells using red wine waste.

We’ll get to the how in just a moment.

First, let’s take a look at why this might be an important development.

For those who don’t know, photovoltaic cells are used in solar powered systems.

Have you ever seen a home with solar panels on the roof? Those panels are photovoltaic cells. They’re capable of capturing light from the sun and converting it into energy for use in a building. Installers create systems that use these cells to send energy to special containment units. Said units then store the energy, which is used in place of the energy that comes from more traditional sources.

The issue with these panels is that they cost a lot of money to produce. They need a host of specialist parts, which means that solar panels tend to cost thousands of euros. 

This has been one of the major barriers to wide scale adoption of such systems around the world. People want to be more energy efficient and they’d love to get their hands on a renewable energy source. However, the prospect of spending so much money on a system makes it almost impossible for the average person.

Until the benefits outweigh the investment on a monetary scale, it’s unlikely that solar photovoltaic cells will completely replace traditional energy sources.

And that’s where red wine waste comes in.

The Intriguing New Development

You may have heard of Serena Wines 1881. They’re one of the largest Prosecco producers in Italy, ranking fifth when it comes to the volume of the wine that they ship every year.

They’ve partnered with Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, the Universidad de Málaga, and the University of Udine to create a project called Cheers.

The goal of this project is pretty simple. They hope to prove that you can create workable solar photovoltaic cells using the waste that red wine production creates. 

That’s one of the specific goals, at least. On a wider level, the project hopes to identify any sort of innovative solutions that they can create using the waste, which is referred to in the industry as lees.

This waste usually sits at the bottom of the wine tank. In most cases, producers dispose of it when they’re cleaning the tanks to make them ready for their next batches of wine.

According to the minds behind Cheers, this waste is actually a raw material that can be used to create a special sort of photovoltaic cell. Named Gräetzel cells, these photovoltaics require organic dyes, which red wine waste contains in abundance.

Specifically, the dye gets used in the production of prototype cells as it can simulate the photosynthesis process. This is the process that plants use to capture the light from the sun to use for fuelling their growth and development. Researchers hope that they can harness this same process to capture the suns light and turn it into electrons, at which point it gets transmitted to a circuit. 

Said electrons then become electricity, which creates a renewable energy source.

As mentioned, the dyes currently get used for prototype construction. However, the work of the good people involved in the Cheers project may lead to it being used for commercial panels sooner or later.

Serena Wines 1881 General Manager Luca Serena has this to say about the project:

“We are excited to be part of this project because for Serena Wines 1881 it is important to promote an approach to the production cycle and management of organic waste with a view to green economy.”

“The company has always paid attention to the environmental advantages that can derive from the recovery and reuse of processing waste and for this it is working to develop technologies that exploit our waste material in tangible actions aimed at eco-sustainability.”

The Final Word

While still in the early stages, the results from the research so far appear to be quite promising.

And they could lead to a double whammy of benefits for the Italian wine industry. The use of red wine waste may help to drive down manufacturing costs for photovoltaic cells. Plus, wine producers may be able to profit directly from selling the waste on.

It will be interesting to see how all of this develops in the coming years.



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