New solar cell technology captures high-energy photons more efficiently

Jan 24, 2014 by Jared Sagoff
Most simple solar cells handle the bluish hues of the electromagnetic spectrum inefficiently. This is because blue photons — incoming particles of light that strike the solar cell — actually have excess energy that a conventional solar cell can’t capture.

(Phys.org) —Getting the blues is rarely a desirable experience—unless you're a solar cell, that is.

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Texas at Austin have together developed a new, inexpensive material that has the potential to capture and convert —particularly from the bluer part of the spectrum—much more efficiently than ever before.

Most simple solar cells handle these bluish hues of the inefficiently. This is because blue photons—incoming particles of light that strike the solar cell—actually have excess energy that a conventional solar cell can't capture.

"Photons of different energies kick electrons up by different amounts," said University of Texas Professor Brian Korgel. "Some photons come in with more energy than the cell is optimized to handle, and so a lot of that energy is lost as heat."

Because of this limitation, scientists had originally believed that simple would never be able to convert more than about 34 percent of to electricity. However, about a decade ago, researchers saw the potential for a single high-energy photon to stimulate multiple "excitons" (pairs of an electron and a positively-charged partner called a "hole") instead of just one. "This was a very exciting discovery, but we were still skeptical that we could get the electrons out of the material," Korgel said.

In their study, Korgel and his team used specialized spectroscopic equipment at Argonne's Center for Nanoscale Materials to look at multiexciton generation in copper indium selenide, a material closely related to another more commonly produced thin film that holds the record for the most efficient thin-film semiconductor. "This is one of the first studies done of multiple exciton generation in such a familiar and inexpensive material," said Argonne nanoscientist Richard Schaller.

"Argonne's spectroscopic techniques played a critical role in the detection of the multiexcitons," Korgel said. "These kinds of measurements can't be made many places."

In order to deposit thin films of the nanocrystalline material, the researchers used a process known as "photonic curing," which involves the split-second heating up and cooling down of the top layer of the material. This curing process not only prevents the melting of the glass that contains the nanocrystals, but also vaporizes organic molecules that inhibit multiple exciton extraction.

Although the study mostly proves that the efficiency boost provided by multiple exciton extraction is possible in mass-producible materials, the major hurdle will be to incorporate these into actual real-world devices.

"The holy grail of our research is not necessarily to boost efficiencies as high as they can theoretically go, but rather to combine increases in efficiency to the kind of large-scale roll-to-roll printing or processing technologies that will help us drive down costs," Korgel said.

Explore further: 'Inverse opal' structure improves thin-film solar cells

Related Stories

'Inverse opal' structure improves thin-film solar cells

Jan 14, 2014

(Phys.org) —Researchers have shown how to increase the efficiency of thin-film solar cells, a technology that could bring low-cost solar energy. The approach uses 3-D "photonic crystals" to absorb more ...

Understanding what makes a thin film solar cell efficient

Nov 05, 2013

Swiss scientists have developed a new technique for manufacturing high-efficiency, flexible, thin film solar cells from CIGS (copper indium gallium di-selenide) semiconductors. This has enabled them to achieve ...

Recommended for you

Chemically driven micro- and nanomotors

Dec 17, 2014

At least since the movie "The Fantastic Voyage" in 1966, in which a submarine is shrunk down and injected into the blood stream of a human, people have been toying with the idea of sending tiny "micromachines" ...

Pyramid nanoscale antennas beam light up and down

Dec 17, 2014

Researchers from FOM Institute AMOLF and Philips Research have designed and fabricated a new type of nanoscale antenna. The new antennas look like pyramids, rather than the more commonly used straight pillars. ...

User comments : 6

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

aennen
1 / 5 (3) Jan 24, 2014
Yawnnn, solar cell improvement 1,345.
antialias_physorg
4.8 / 5 (4) Jan 25, 2014
Yawnnn, solar cell improvement 1,345.

If you're bored by science, don't read it.

Science isn't Hollywood-we'll-invent-a-new-paradigm-every-5-minutes. Science is many small steps. Get used to it or do something better yourself.
NickFun
1 / 5 (2) Jan 25, 2014
There seems to be wondrous new solar technology every week! Before I believe - Show me!
citizenvern
4 / 5 (1) Jan 27, 2014
"Yawn. MORE progress! Why is there so much PROGRESS all the time!" ;)
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Jan 27, 2014
Most articles do kinda tell the laundry list of "next steps" (ie - scalability, etc) in eventually getting it to a final product...
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Jan 28, 2014
Just noticed this was at Argonne. I used to fix computers out there. And I lived so close, I walked my dog in the forests surrounding it.... (lots o white deer)
Wow...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.