New kind of solar cell could capture significantly more energy than current cells

Feb 08, 2012

New solar cells could increase the maximum efficiency of solar panels by over 25%, according to scientists from the University of Cambridge.

Scientists from the Cavendish Laboratory, the University's Department of Physics, have developed a novel type of solar cell which could harvest much more efficiently than traditional designs. The research, published today in the journal , could dramatically improve the amount of useful created by solar panels.

Solar panels work by absorbing energy from particles of light, called photons, which then generate electrons to create electricity. Traditional solar cells are only capable of capturing part of the light from the sun and much of the energy of the absorbed light, particularly of the blue photons, is lost as heat. This inability to extract the full energy of all of the different colours of light at once means that traditional solar cells are incapable of converting more than 34% of the available sunlight into electrical power.

The Cambridge team led by Professor Neil Greenham and Professor Sir Richard Friend has developed a hybrid cell which absorbs red light and harnesses the extra energy of blue light to boost the electrical current. Typically, a solar cell generates a single electron for each photon captured. However, by adding pentacene, an organic semiconductor, the solar cells can generate two electrons for every photon from the blue . This could enable the cells to capture 44% of the incoming solar energy.

Bruno Ehrler, the lead author on the paper, said: "Organic and hybrid solar cells have an advantage over current silicon-based technology because they can be produced in large quantities at low cost by roll-to-roll printing. However, much of the cost of a is in the land, labour, and installation hardware. As a result, even if organic solar panels are less expensive, we need to improve their efficiency to make them competitive. Otherwise, it'd be like buying a cheap painting, only to find out you need an expensive frame."

Mark Wilson, another author on the paper, said: "I think it's very important that we move towards sustainable sources of energy, and it's exciting to help explore possible solutions."

Dr. Akshay Rao, co-author on the paper noted: "This is just the first step towards a new generation of and we are very excited to be a part of this effort."

Explore further: Surprise: Biological microstructures light up after heating

More information: The paper 'Singlet Exciton Fission-Sensitized Infrared Quantum Dot Solar Cells' will be published in the 08 February 2012 edition of Nano Letters.

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User comments : 14

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deatopmg
2.6 / 5 (5) Feb 08, 2012
will this new technology lower the overall cost/Watt? Probably not.
Sin_Amos
2.2 / 5 (11) Feb 08, 2012
Ummm. PhysOrg continually reports the "solar panel" breakthroughs that never materialize into higher efficiencies in real world cells. Yawn!
antialias_physorg
4.2 / 5 (5) Feb 08, 2012
PhysOrg continually reports the "solar panel" breakthroughs that never materialize into higher efficiencies in real world cells

How long have you been reading stuff on Physorg? About a year.

how long does it take for research to be turned into a product? 5-10 years.

It's not just the research you have to do.

You have to:

- Start up a company (companies that rae already selling solar cells at a profit are not much inclined to make their own cells obsolete)
- Develop an efficient production process
- Build a few factories
- Hire and train people
- Oragnize a distribution network

...all of this takes just oodles of time.

In light of this your comment is a bit unfounded. wait another 10 years and THEN come back to this article and complain that it hasn't been turned into a product. (alternatively start a company yourself and turn it into a product)
dschlink
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 08, 2012
Seriously, there is another article today about multi-junction GaAs hitting 27.6% with production units. About ten years ago, both multi-junction and GaAs PV cells were in the lab.
djr
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 08, 2012
Sin Amos - "that never materialize into higher efficiencies in real world cells. Yawn!" I suggest you do some more reading. Physorg is a board that tends to report on very early stage research. Real world results take time. But to suggest they never materialize just shows your level or ignorance. Check out this article on the constantly falling records across all forms of pv cells - http://www.greent...ormance/ I continue to say - renewables are coming - you can't stop this locomotive - and the peanut gallery is ignorant and irrelevant.
djr
5 / 5 (2) Feb 08, 2012
Sin Amos - "that never materialize into higher efficiencies in real world cells. Yawn!" I suggest you do some more reading. Physorg is a board that tends to report on very early stage research. Real world results take time. But to suggest they never materialize just shows your level of ignorance. Check out this article on the constantly falling records across all forms of pv cells - http://www.greent...ormance/ I continue to say - renewables are coming - you can't stop this locomotive - and the peanut gallery is ignorant and irrelevant.
kaasinees
1 / 5 (1) Feb 08, 2012
will this new technology lower the overall cost/Watt? Probably not.

Probably not directly but if we look economic-wise than most likely.

I still want those figures of the mirror-salt solar plants.
Sean_W
1 / 5 (1) Feb 08, 2012
If these new solar panels are so much more efficient and cheap' the remaining question is: do they loose capacity at a slower or faster rate compared to how other panels age?
TJAnderson
not rated yet Feb 08, 2012
great article. Thanks for the prompt press of the research published today.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Feb 08, 2012
will this new technology lower the overall cost/Watt

I think it will really depend what they'll be used for. High efficiency solar cells can be a bit more expensive per Watt because they pander to a different market than low cost/low efficiency cells do. Everywhere where space is at a premium or installation costs are high such cells are better.

do they loose capacity at a slower or faster rate compared to how other panels age

Can't be much slower as the current in-play cells don't seem to be aging at nearly the rates predicted. Currently the numbers are 10-13% over a 25 years lifecycle.
JohnJohn
1 / 5 (5) Feb 08, 2012
The general public is right about feeling suspect about this barrage of crappy solar device papers. What scientific question was actually addressed by this paper which has not been addressed and shown time and again? None...

Who cares if you can make a crappy device....science is broken

Its one thing to chase these inefficient systems to better understand what is happening so that they may be manipulated and or improved, but this is just silly

(from someone who publishes equally pointless "research")
djr
not rated yet Feb 08, 2012
"from someone who publishes equally pointless "research"" and equally pointless and unhelpful follow up comments. Do u have any basis for calling these panels crappy, and silly? U dont think it is a valid scientific report to show improvement in efficiency? Panels have dropped in price by 50% in the last year - as a result of all the work being done around the world - are u just always negative?
JohnJohn
3 / 5 (2) Feb 08, 2012
What improvement in efficiency? <1%? Did you read the paper? They demonstrated that you can inefficiently transfer fissiled triplets to a different acceptor, quantum dots... which results in another inefficient device. Breaking the theoretical SQ limit meaningless! Im sick of hearing it in this context when you cant even begin to approach the limit with this sort of device.

Analogy:
Yeah I made a car that gets 100mpg when going 44mph by utilizing widgetA and widgetB, but at all other speeds it gets 2mpg.so theoretically I could have a car that gets 100mpg all the time if I ignore the physics I don't like or understand. Isnt that an improvement over 30mpg or even 10mpg?

(and yes I am a very negative person)
djr
not rated yet Feb 09, 2012
"and yes I am a very negative person" You and many others who choose to try to pull science down. Fortunately there is a lot of amazing science going on despite the peanut gallery - and like I say - a 50% drop in the cost of solar panels in one year - sounds pretty remarkable to me. I am rooting for the human race - but many days it is very discouraging.