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University of Minnesota researchers clear major hurdle in road to high-efficiency solar cells
Date:6/18/2010

A team of University of Minnesota-led researchers has cleared a major hurdle in the drive to build solar cells with potential efficiencies up to twice as high as current levels, which rarely exceed 30 percent.

By showing how energy that is now being lost from semiconductors in solar cells can be captured and transferred to electric circuits, the team has opened a new avenue for solar cell researchers seeking to build cheaper, more efficient solar energy devices. The work is published in this week's Science.

A system built on the research could also slash the cost of manufacturing solar cells by removing the need to process them at very high temperatures.

The achievement crowns six years of work begun at the university Institute of Technology (College of Science and Engineering) chemical engineering and materials science professors Eray Aydil and David Norris and chemistry professor Xiaoyang Zhu (now at the university of Texas-Austin) and spearheaded by U of M graduate student William Tisdale.

In most solar cells now in use, rays from the sun strike the uppermost layer of the cells, which is made of a crystalline semiconductor substanceusually silicon. The problem is that many electrons in the silicon absorb excess amounts of solar energy and radiate that energy away as heat before it can be harnessed.

An early step in harnessing that energy is to transfer these "hot" electrons out of the semiconductor and into a wire, or electric circuit, before they can cool off. But efforts to extract hot electrons from traditional silicon semiconductors have not succeeded.

However, when semiconductors are constructed in small pieces only a few nanometers wide -- "quantum dots" -- their properties change.

"Theory says that quantum dots should slow the loss of energy as heat," said Tisdale. "And a 2008 paper from the University of Chicago showed this to be true. The big question for us was whether we coul
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Contact: Preston Smith
smith@umn.edu
612-625-0552
University of Minnesota
Source:Eurekalert  

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