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New path to solar energy via solid-state photovoltaics
Date:3/31/2010

m the sun are absorbed, their energy creates electron-hole pairs that can be separated within a "depletion zone," a microscopic region at the p-n junction measuring only a couple of micrometers across, then collected as electricity. For this process to take place, however, the photons have to penetrate the material to the depletion zone and their energy has to precisely match the energy of the semiconductor's electronic bandgap the gap between its valence and conduction energy bands where no electron states can exist.

"The maximum voltage conventional solid-state photovoltaic devices can produce is equal to the energy of their electronic bandgap," Seidel says. "Even for so called tandem-cells, in which several semiconductor p-n junctions are stacked, photovoltages are still limited because of the finite penetration depth of light into the material."

Working through Berkeley Lab's Helios Solar Energy Research Center, Seidel and his collaborators discovered that by applying white light to bismuth ferrite, a material that is both ferroelectric and antiferromagnetic, they could generate photovoltages within submicroscopic areas between one and two nanometers across. These photovoltages were significantly higher than bismuth ferrite's electronic bandgap.

"The bandgap energy of the bismuth ferrite is equivalent to 2.7 volts. From our measurements we know that with our mechanism we can get approximately 16 volts over a distance of 200 microns. Furthermore, this voltage is in principle linear scalable, which means that larger distances should lead to higher voltages."

Behind this new mechanism for photovoltage generation are domain walls two-dimensional sheets that run through a multiferroic and serve as transition zones, separating regions of different ferromagnetic or ferroelectric properties. In their study, Seidel and his collaborators found that these domain walls can serve the same electron-hole separation purpose as depletio
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Contact: Lynn Yarris
lcyarris@lbl.gov
510-486-5375
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert  

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