Navigation Links
Trapping sunlight with silicon nanowires

Solar cells made from silicon are projected to be a prominent factor in future renewable green energy equations, but so far the promise has far exceeded the reality. While there are now silicon photovoltaics that can convert sunlight into electricity at impressive 20 percent efficiencies, the cost of this solar power is prohibitive for large-scale use. Researchers with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), however, are developing a new approach that could substantially reduce these costs. The key to their success is a better way of trapping sunlight.

"Through the fabrication of thin films from ordered arrays of vertical silicon nanowires we've been able to increase the light-trapping in our solar cells by a factor of 73," says chemist Peidong Yang, who led this research. "Since the fabrication technique behind this extraordinary light-trapping enhancement is a relatively simple and scalable aqueous chemistry process, we believe our approach represents an economically viable path toward high-efficiency, low-cost thin-film solar cells."

Yang holds joint appointments with Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division, and the University of California Berkeley's Chemistry Department. He is a leading authority on semiconductor nanowires - one-dimensional strips of materials whose width measures only one-thousandth that of a human hair but whose length may stretch several microns.

"Typical solar cells are made from very expensive ultrapure single crystal silicon wafers that require about 100 micrometers of thickness to absorb most of the solar light, whereas our radial geometry enables us to effectively trap light with nanowire arrays fabricated from silicon films that are only about eight micrometers thick," he says. "Furthermore, our approach should in principle allow us to use metallurgical grade or "dirty" silicon rather than the ultrapure silicon crystals now required, which should cut costs even further."

Yang has described this research in a paper published in the journal Nano Letters, which he co-authored with Erik Garnett, a chemist who was then a member of Yang's research group. The paper is titled "Light Trapping in Silicon Nanowire Solar Cells."

Generating Electricity from Sunlight

At the heart of all solar cells are two separate layers of material, one with an abundance of electrons that functions as a negative pole, and one with an abundance of electron holes (positively-charged energy spaces) that functions as a positive pole. When photons from the sun are absorbed, their energy is used to create electron-hole pairs, which are then separated at the interface between the two layers and collected as electricity.

Because of its superior photo-electronic properties, silicon remains the photovoltaic semiconductor of choice but rising demand has inflated the price of the raw material. Furthermore, because of the high-level of crystal purification required, even the fabrication of the simplest silicon-based solar cell is a complex, energy-intensive and costly process.

Yang and his group are able to reduce both the quantity and the quality requirements for silicon by using vertical arrays of nanostructured radial p-n junctions rather than conventional planar p-n junctions. In a radial p-n junction, a layer of n-type silicon forms a shell around a p-type silicon nanowire core. As a result, photo-excited electrons and holes travel much shorter distances to electrodes, eliminating a charge-carrier bottleneck that often arises in a typical silicon solar cell. The radial geometry array also, as photocurrent and optical transmission measurements by Yang and Garrett revealed, greatly improves light trapping.

"Since each individual nanowire in the array has a p-n junction, each acts as an individual solar cell," Yang says. "By adjusting the length of the nanowires in our arrays, we can increase their light-trapping path length."

While the conversion efficiency of these solar nanowires was only about five to six percent, Yang says this efficiency was achieved with little effort put into surface passivation, antireflection, and other efficiency-increasing modifications.

"With further improvements, most importantly in surface passivation, we think it is possible to push the efficiency to above 10 percent," Yang says.

Combining a 10 percent or better conversion efficiency with the greatly reduced quantities of starting silicon material and the ability to use metallurgical grade silicon, should make the use of silicon nanowires an attractive candidate for large-scale development.

As an added plus Yang says, "Our technique can be used in existing solar panel manufacturing processes."


Contact: Lynn Yarris
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Related biology technology :

1. Solar power game-changer: Near perfect absorption of sunlight, from all angles
2. Sunlight Research(TM), Releases its Osiris Therapeutics Stem Cell Patent Report
3. Nanotube forests grown on silicon chips for future computers, electronics
4. Worlds most complex silicon phased-array chip developed at UC-San Diego
5. Align Technology, Inc. Ranked 23rd in Deloittes Technology Fast 50 Program for Silicon Valley Scientific & Medical Equipment, and Bio-Technology Companies
6. Job-related stress: NIST demonstrates fatigue effects in silicon
7. Move over, silicon: Advances pave way for powerful carbon-based electronics
8. UDs Appelbaum wins NSF Career Award for research on silicon spintronics
9. UCT Specialties (Formerly Petrarch) Announces the Release of Their New Product Guides for Silanes, Silicones, Platinum Catalyst and Glass Coatings
10. UM physicists show electrons can travel over 100 times faster in graphene than in silicon
11. Foldable and stretchable, silicon circuits conform to many shapes
Post Your Comments:
Related Image:
Trapping sunlight with silicon nanowires
(Date:6/27/2016)... , June 27, 2016 /PRNewswire/ - BIOREM Inc. (TSX-V: ... been advised by its major shareholders, Clean Technology Fund ... United States based venture capital funds ... of Biorem (on a fully diluted, as converted basis), ... disposition of their entire equity holdings in Biorem to ...
(Date:6/27/2016)... ... June 27, 2016 , ... ... medical technologies, services and solutions to the healthcare market. The company's primary focus ... distribution, manufacturing, sales and marketing strategies that are necessary to help companies efficiently ...
(Date:6/24/2016)... TOKYO , June 24, 2016  Regular discussions on ... to take place between the two entities said Poloz. ... in Ottawa , he pointed to the ... and the federal government. ... Poloz said, "Both institutions have common economic goals, why not ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... ... June 23, 2016 , ... Mosio, a leader ... “Clinical Trials Patient Recruitment and Retention Tips.” Partnering with experienced clinical research professionals, ... providing practical tips, tools, and strategies for clinical researchers. , “The landscape of ...
Breaking Biology Technology:
(Date:6/20/2016)... DALLAS , June 20, 2016 ... criminal justice technology solutions for public safety, investigation, ... by the prisons involved, it has secured the ... Corrections (DOC) facilities for Managed Access Systems (MAS) ... (4) additional facilities to be installed by October, ...
(Date:6/15/2016)... York , June 15, 2016 ... new market report titled "Gesture Recognition Market by Application ... Forecast, 2016 - 2024". According to the report, the  ... 11.60 billion in 2015 and is estimated to ... USD 48.56 billion by 2024.  Increasing ...
(Date:6/9/2016)... 9, 2016 Paris Police ... video security solution to ensure the safety of people and ... during the major tournament Teleste, an international technology ... services, announced today that its video security solution will be ... back up public safety across the country. The system roll-out ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):