The sun provides more than enough energy for all our needs, if only we could harness it cheaply and efficiently. Solar energy could provide a clean alternative to fossil fuels, but the high cost of solar cells has been a major barrier to their widespread use.
Stanford researchers have found that adding a single layer of organic molecules to a solar cell can increase its efficiency three-fold and could lead to cheaper, more efficient solar panels. Their results were published online in ACS Nano on Feb. 7.
Professor of chemical engineering Stacey Bent first became interested in a new kind of solar technology two years ago. These solar cells used tiny particles of semiconductors called "quantum dots." Quantum dot solar cells are cheaper to produce than traditional ones, as they can be made using simple chemical reactions. But despite their promise, they lagged well behind existing solar cells in efficiency.
"I wondered if we could use our knowledge of chemistry to improve their efficiency," Bent said. If she could do that, the reduced cost of these solar cells could lead to mass adoption of the technology.
Bent will discuss her research on Sunday, Feb. 20, at 8:30 a.m. Eastern, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C.
In principle, quantum dot cells can reach much higher efficiency, Bent said, because of a fundamental limitation of traditional solar cells.
Solar cells work by using energy from the sun to excite electrons. The excited electrons jump from a lower energy level to a higher one, leaving behind a "hole" where the electron used to be. Solar cells use a semiconductor to pull an electron in one direction, and another material to pull the hole in the other direction. This flow of electron and hole in different directions leads to an electric current.
But it takes a certain minimum energy to fully separate the electron and the hole.
|Contact: Louis Bergeron|