[Image credit] Researchers at Ohio State University have invented a solar battery—a combination solar cell and battery—which recharges itself using air and light. Here, scanning electron microscope images show the solution: nanometer-sized rods of titanium dioxide (larger image) that cover the surface of a piece of titanium gauze (inset). The holes in the gauze are approximately 200 micrometers across, allowing air to enter the battery while the rods gather light. Credit: Yiying Wu; Ohio State U.

If Columbus, Ohio and I were married, we’d be newlyweds.

We’re still tiptoeing around each other—figuring out each other’s quirks, simultaneously alternating between love and hate, and yes, even suffering from the occasional feelings of doubt—but, ultimately, falling deeper and deeper in love with one another every day*.

(*I say that, not really knowing what Columbus thinks of me. What say you, Cbus?)

And though my new city often makes headlines for its Bucks—that includes you, fan turned national news story—it’s also long been recognized for its brains, earning annual rankings as one of the most intelligent cities in America, even snagging the top spot in 2013.

Part of the reason Columbus is so smart is because of all the brain power packed into the halls of the Capital City’s colleges and universities.

Take Ohio State University, alma mater of fellow editor and all-around-intelligent April, and home to some pretty important scientific research (not to mention current and future ACerS members).

That includes the patent-pending solar battery—the world’s first—developed by OSU professor of chemistry and biochemistry Yiying Wu and his students.

Their work, published in Nature Communications, reports that Wu’s team has successfully married battery and solar cell in a single device.

How does the hybrid solar cell-rechargeable battery work?

According to an OSU release, a mesh solar panel that allows air to enter the battery and a “special process” (an iodide additive “shuttle”) to transfer electrons between the panel and electrode are key. Once inside, that light and oxygen trigger  chemical reactions that charge the rechargeable battery.

By licensing the battery to industry, OSU hopes to help cut the costs of renewable energy, says Wu, who believes the solar device would slash the price of power by 25 percent.

“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 says in the release. “We’ve integrated both functions into one device. Any time you can do that, you reduce cost.”

Though it reduces cost, it also increases solar energy efficiency. The light-to-electrons process that occurs inside of the battery helps preserve 100 percent of the electrons. In a typical solar cell, only 80 percent generally survive the trip from cell to external battery.

This isn’t Wu’s first go-round with a more efficient battery. Developed with several MBA and PhD students, his high-efficiency, “breathing” KAir Battery took home the $100,000 clean energy prize from the Energy Department earlier this year.

For an in-depth look at the process behind both batteries, click here or read the paper, “Integrating a redox-coupled dye-sensitized photoelectrode into a lithium-oxygen battery for photoassisted charging” (DOI:10.1038/ncomms6111).