Nanotechnology in Solar Cells

How can nanotechnology improve solar cells

Using nanoparticles in the manufacture of solar cells has the following benefits:

  • Reduced manufacturing costs as a result of using a low temperature process similar to printing instead of the high temperature vacuum deposition process typically used to produce conventional cells made with crystalline semiconductor material.

  • Reduced installation costs achieved by producing flexible rolls instead of rigid crystalline panels. Cells made from semiconductor thin films will also have this characteristic.

  • Currently available nanotechnology solar cells are not as efficient as traditional ones, however their lower cost offsets this. In the long term nanotechnology versions should both be lower cost and, using quantum dots, should be able to reach higher efficiency levels than conventional ones.

Solar Cells: Nanotechnology Applications under Development

Researchers at Michigan Technological University have developed a honeycomb like structure of graphene in which the graphene sheets are held apart by lithium carbonate. They have used this "3D graphene" to replace the platinum in a dye sensitized solar cell and achieved 7.8 percent conversion of sunlight to electricity.

Researchers at Los Alamos National Lab have demonstrated a solar cell that uses a copper indium selenide sulfide quantum dots. Unlike quantum dots containing lead or cadium the copper based quantum dot is non-toxc as well as low cost.

Researchers at MIT are studying solar cells made from single molecule thick sheets of graphene and materials such as molybdenum diselenide. They are predicting that this type of solar cells could produce up to 1000 times as much more power for a given weigh of material than conventional solar cells. They have completed computer modeling and are working on building the solar cells.

Researchers at MIT have developed a solar cell using graphene coated with zinc oxide nanowires. The researchers believe that this method will allow the production of low cost flexible solar cells at high enough efficiency to be competive.

Researchers are using a method called Aerotaxy to grow semiconducting nanowires on gold nanoparticles. They plan to use self assembly techniques to align the nanowires on a substrate; forming a solar cell or other electrical devices. The gold nanoparticles replace the silicon substrate on which conventional semiconductor based solar cells are built.

Researchers at Princeton University have developed a solar cell that almost eliminates losses due to reflection of light. They use a 30 nanometer thick gold nanomesh (a layer with a regular pattern of 175 nanometer diameter holes) along with an active layer thinner than the wavelength of light. They found that this combination traps most of the light in the solar cell, increasing the efficiency of the cell.

Researchers at Duke University are developing another method to reduce losses due to the reflection of light. In this method the combination of silver nanocubes scattered over a thin gold layer reduce losses due to reflection.

Researchers at the Nies Bohr Institute have determined that sunlight can be concentrated in nanowires due to a resonance effect. This effect can result in more efficient solar cells, allowing more of the energy from the sun to be converted to electricity.

An inexpensive solar cell designed to produce hydrogen is being developed using iron oxide nanoparticles.

Combining silver nanowires, titanium dioixde nanoparticles and a polymer that absorbs infrared light to make a solar cell that is about 70 percent transparent to visible light, allowing it to be used in windows.

Titanium dioxide nanotubes filled with a polymer to form low cost solar cells

Combining lead selenide quantum dots with titanium dioxide to form higher higher efficiency solar cells.

Combining carbon nanotubes and buckyballs to produce solar cells. Some researchers combine the nanotubes and buckyballs with a polymer, while another group of researchers are only using nanotubes and buckyballs. A third research group is also using nanotubes and buckballs along with graphene to build a solar cell.

Researchers at Stanford University have found a way to trap light in organic solar cells. The idea is that the longer light is in the solar cell the more electrons will be generated. The researchers found that by making the organic layer much thinner than the wavelength of light and sandwiching the organic layer between a mirror layer and a rough layer the light stayed in the solar cell longer and excited more electrons.

Semiconductor nanoparticles applied in a low temperature printing process that results in low cost solar cells.

Organic molecules to lower costs.

Using light absorbing nanowires embedded in a flexible polymer film is another method being developed to produce low cost flexible solar panels.

Using light absorbing graphene sheets to produce low cost solar panels

Organic solar cells that are self repairing

Organic solar cells that can be applied by spray painting, possibly turning the surface of a car into a solar cell.

Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley have demonstrated an inexpensive process for making solar cells. These solar cells are composed of cadmium sulfide nanowires coated with copper sulfide.

Solar cells that can be installed as a coating on windows or other building materials, referred to as "Building Integrated Photovoltaic's".

Solar Cells: Nanotechnology Company Directory

Company Materials Used
Nanosolar Copper-Indium-Diselenide semiconductor ink
Global Photonics Organic solar cells
Innovalight Silicon nanocrystalline ink
Bloo Solar "Nano-cables" grown on a thin film material
EnSol Nanocrystals embedded in a thin film material
Solarmer Energy Nanoparticles in plastic solar cells

Other Energy Related Pages


Compiled by Earl Boysen of Hawk's Perch Technical Writing, LLC and UnderstandingNano.com. You can find him on Google+.

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