Towards nanowire solar cells with a 65-percent efficiency

June 20, 2010

Dutch researchers want to develop solar cells with an efficiency of over 65 percent by means of nanotechnology.

In Southern Europe and North Africa these new solar cells can generate a substantial portion of the European demand for electricity. The Dutch government reserves EUR 1.2 million (1.5 million U.S. dollars) for the research.

An agency of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, will grant the EUR 1.2 million to Eindhoven University of Technology researchers for their research into nanowire solar cells. It is their expectation that, when combined with mirror systems, these solar cells can generate a sizeable portion of the European in Southern Europe and North Africa.

The current thin-film solar cells (type III/V) have an efficiency that lies around 40 percent, but they are very expensive and can only be applied as on satellites. By using mirror systems that focus one thousand times they can now also be deployed on earth in a cost-effective manner. The TU/ researchers expect that in ten years their nano-structured solar cells can attain an efficiency of more than 65 percent. Jos Haverkort: "If the Netherlands wants to timely participate in a commercial exploitation of nanowire solar cells, there is a great urgency to get on board now." The research is conducted together with Philips MiPlaza.

They think that , in combination with the use of concentrated sunlight through mirror systems, has the potential to lead to the world’s most efficient solar cell system with a cost price lower than 50 cent per Watt peak. In comparison: for the present generation of solar cells that cost price is 1.50 euro (1.85 USD) per Watt peak.

Nanowires make it possible to stack a number of subcells (junctions). In this process each subcell converts one color of sunlight optimally to electricity. The highest yield reported until now in a nanowire solar cell is 8.4 percent. Haverkort: “We expect that a protective shell around the nanowires is the critical step towards attaining the same efficiency with nanowire as with thin-film cells." Haverkort thinks that at 5 to 10 junctions he will arrive at an efficiency of 65 percent.

In addition, the researchers expect considerable savings can be made on production costs, because grow on a cheap silicon substrate and also grow faster, which results in a lower cost of ownership of the growth equipment. What is more, the combination of the mirror systems with nanotechnology will imply an acceptable use of the scarce and hence expensive metals gallium and indium.

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1 / 5 (1) Jun 20, 2010
I do hope either Siemens or GE finances the development of these new devices for it could then be spread rapidly around the globe.There's enough money to be made for everyone involved,and it is sorely needed in Africa,South America,Asia,and the Caribbean.
1 / 5 (1) Jun 21, 2010
If it makes sense in Africa, South America etc. (which i really hope it does soon) then it will also make sense in Europe and N. America. A good thing.
1 / 5 (1) Jun 27, 2010
It makes sens everywhere simply because it not only avoids the need to burn fossil fuels but it also allows the power supply to be built near its users this reduces the cost of distribution. Then there are other existing technologies that can be attached to provide even better supply
This technology has a more immediate value in the developed nations
not rated yet Jun 29, 2010
very dirty and dangerous process I understand limits the impact - price per unit makes it prohibitive -regardless of the immense environmental concerns - is BP an equity investor?
not rated yet Jul 07, 2010
There are two ways to approach producing power with solar cells. The one discussed in this article uses expensive, high efficiency solar cells, along with mirrors to concentrate the light. The problem is that the wasted solar energy heats the solar cell, so you need both a cooling system (usually today a passive system using heat pipes) and to make the cells efficient as possible. At a certain point the heat can't travel through the cell fast enough, and the overheating reduces efficency. Let that happen without refocusing the mirrors, and you have molten solar cells.

The other approach is to make cells which are as inexpensive as possible. The problem with that solution is that you need "self organizing" solar cells. Wiring the cells together by hand starts to dominate other costs, so you need either processes like printing solar cells (and wires) in a roll-to-roll system, or self organizing cells that you can spray on your roof and get power.

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