Selenium makes more efficient solar cells

August 3, 2010
This is a sunset over the Pacific Ocean as seen from Highway 1 south of Monterey, Calif. LBNL's Marie Mayer, who took the photo, calls sunlight and water "two sustainable resources to power our world." Credit: Credit: Marie Mayer

Call it the anti-sunscreen. That's more or less the description of what many solar energy researchers would like to find -- light-catching substances that could be added to photovoltaic materials in order to convert more of the sun's energy into carbon-free electricity.

Research reported in the journal , published by the American Institute of Physics (AIP), describes how solar power could potentially be harvested by using oxide materials that contain the element selenium. A team at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, embedded selenium in zinc oxide, a relatively inexpensive material that could be promising for solar power conversion if it could make more efficient use of the sun's . The team found that even a relatively small amount of , just 9 percent of the mostly base, dramatically boosted the material's efficiency in absorbing light.

"Researchers are exploring ways to make solar cells both less expensive and more efficient; this result potentially addresses both of those needs," says author Marie Mayer, a fourth-year University of California, Berkeley doctoral student based out of LBNL's Solar Materials Energy Research Group, which is working on novel for sustainable clean-energy sources.

Mayer says that photoelectrochemical water splitting, using energy from the sun to cleave water into hydrogen and oxygen gases, could potentially be the most exciting future application for her work. Harnessing this reaction is key to the eventual production of zero-emission hydrogen powered vehicles, which hypothetically will run only on water and sunlight. Like most researchers, Mayer isn't predicting hydrogen cars on the roads in any meaningful numbers soon. Still, the great thing about solar power, she says, is that "if you can dream it, someone is trying to research it."

Explore further: Solar energy stored efficiently

More information: The article, "Band structure engineering of ZnO1-xSex alloys" by Marie A. Mayer, Derrick T. Speaks, Kin Man Yu, Samuel S. Mao, Eugene E. Haller, and Wladek Walukiewicz will appear in the journal Applied Physics Letters. See:

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1 / 5 (2) Aug 03, 2010
So, if this new doping was adapted to the S.T.E.P and P.E.T.E. processes, it should enable significant gains all the way around, and likely to the point of being at the same price point as fossil. Brilliant!!!
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 04, 2010
Solar energy has two variabilities, daily, and anywhere beyond around 20 degrees from the equator, the much more important annual variation, as that obviously means reduced power for months on end in the winter.
For that reason the notion that you should produce hydrogen using solar power is fundamentally daft, as valuable equipment to electrolyse the water stands idle.
It is much, much easier to use nuclear.
That is just the physics of the thing.
5 / 5 (2) Aug 04, 2010
That is not the physics of the thing, its the economics and the politics. Nuclear is not simply "easier", there is a case to be made, but factors such as life cost and delivery latency are prime.
Solar installations are relatively quick to pilot and build, there are minimal environmental, safety and security risks to consider.
Your mention of 20' from the equator is a marginal consideration, the cosine function is 94% at +/- 20 degrees - a loss of just 6%, moving to 14% at 30 degrees.
However, tilting the panels would be required to get the most out of the daily traverse of the sun (180 degrees) and an additional axis of tilt to cover the seasons would not be a big problem.
5 / 5 (2) Aug 04, 2010
Did that fool just try to say nuclear is easier than solar? I can go to radioshack and split water with 10bucks using the sunlight, let me go get some uranium and test my nuclear abilities... wow.
5 / 5 (2) Aug 04, 2010
In regards some of the dynamics of this thread: We all to some degree fear newness and so desire to retain the status quo.
Those who bring up only the negative of a new science are often very helpful -- like it or not -- to those moving ahead with the new, as they help pin point weaknesses that need further work and study. It's not a problem.
We aren't "fools" simply because we may have a different view or opinion, it's what makes the wheels turn.
5 / 5 (1) Aug 04, 2010
There is another article on a solar break-through here: http://www.physor...766.html

Scientific knowledge is moving ahead exponentially and it seems many different avenues of study are effecting the improvement in solar voltaic efficiencies. I find this extremely exciting and feel we are just on the cusp of some hugely significant discoveries that will make solar power far cheaper than coal and oil. There are other avenues of green energy production and storage in-which new breakthroughs happen daily. It's all very exciting.

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