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Enhancing solar cells with nanoparticles
Date:12/23/2008

WASHINGTON, Dec. 23 - Deriving plentiful electricity from sunlight at a modest cost is a challenge with immense implications for energy, technology, and climate policy. A paper in a special energy issue of Optics Express, the Optical Society's (OSA) open-access journal, describes a relatively new approach to solar cells: lacing them with nanoscopic metal particles. As the authors describe in the article, this approach has the potential to greatly improve the ability of solar cells to harvest light efficiently.

Like plants, solar cells turn light into energy. Plants do this inside vegetable matter, while solar cells do it in a semiconductor crystal doped with extra atoms. Current solar cells cannot convert all the incoming light into usable energy because some of the light can escape back out of the cell into the air. Additionally, sunlight comes in a variety of colors and the cell might be more efficient at converting bluish light while being less efficient at converting reddish light.

The nanoparticle approach seeks to remedy these problems. The key to this new research is the creation of a tiny electrical disturbance called a "surface plasmon." When light strikes a piece of metal it can set up waves in the surface of the metal. These waves of electrons then move about like ripples on the surface of a pond. If the metal is in the form of a tiny particle, the incoming light can make the particle vibrate, thus effectively scattering the light. If, furthermore, the light is at certain "resonant" colors, the scattering process is particularly strong.

In the Optics Express paper, Kylie Catchpole and Albert Polman show what happens when a thin coating of nanoscopic (a billionth of a meter in size) metal particles are placed onto a solar cell. First of all, the use of nanoparticles causes the incoming sunlight to scatter more fully, keeping more of the light inside the solar cell. Second, varying the size and material of t
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Contact: Colleen Morrison
cmorri@osa.org
202-416-1437
Optical Society of America
Source:Eurekalert

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