Houses could one day be lined with 'smart wallpaper' that automatically generates electricity thanks to new technology using ultra-thin graphene sheets.
Scientists from the University of Surrey's Advanced Technology Institute (AIT) have found a way to manipulate these sheets so that they can turn wasted light and heat into electricity.
Traditionally, graphene, which is one atom thick, is inefficient at capturing light. In order to improve this, scientists used a technique known as nano-patterning to focus light into narrow spaces in textured surfaces.
A solar cell works by absorbing light and converting it into electricity
According to research published in Science Advances, scientists took their inspiration from nature, looking at how moths' eyes work.
"Nature has evolved simple yet powerful adaptations, from which we have taken inspiration in order to answer challenges of future technologies," explained Professor Ravi Silva, Head of AIT
"Moths' eyes have microscopic patterning that allows them to see in the dimmest conditions.
"These work by channelling light towards the middle of the eye, with the added benefit of eliminating reflections, which would otherwise alert predators of their location.
"We have used the same technique to make an amazingly thin, efficient, light-absorbent material by patterning graphene in a similar fashion."
The material is still a long way from coming to our shop floors as "wallpaper."
Lead author of the paper, Dr José Anguita, explained "graphene is only able to absorb a small percentage of the light that falls on it" because of its thinness.
However, Silva does have a bigger vision for how the material could shape all our lives in the future.
"The next step is to incorporate this material in a variety of existing and emerging technologies," he said.
"We are very excited about the potential to exploit this material in existing optical devices for performance enhancement, whilst looking towards new applications."