|“By combining these two cells, the perovskite cell and the silicon cell, we are able to make much better use of the solar energy and achieve higher efficiencies than either cell on its own.”
Researchers at The Australian National University (ANU) have found a new way to fabricate high efficiency semi-transparent perovskite solar cells in a breakthrough that could lead to more efficient and cheaper solar electricity (Advanced Energy Materials, “Efficient Indium-Doped TiOxElectron Transport Layers for High-Performance Perovskite Solar Cells and Perovskite-Silicon Tandems”).
|Dr Tom White from the ANU Research School of Engineering said the new fabrication method significantly improved the performance of perovskite solar cells, which can combine with conventional silicon solar cells to produce more efficient solar electricity.|
|ANU Ph.D. student The Duong, Dr.Tom White and Ph.D. student Jun Peng.|
|He said perovskite solar cells were extremely good at making electricity from visible light – blue, green and red – while conventional silicon solar cells were more efficient at converting infrared light into electricity.|
|“The prospect of adding a few additional processing steps at the end of a silicon cell production line to make perovskite cells is very exciting and could boost solar efficiency from 25 per cent to 30 per cent,” Dr White said.|
|“By combining these two cells, the perovskite cell and the silicon cell, we are able to make much better use of the solar energy and achieve higher efficiencies than either cell on its own.”|
|While perovskite cells can improve efficiency, they are not yet stable enough to be used on rooftops. Dr White said the new fabrication technique could help develop more reliable perovskite cells.|
|The new fabrication method involves adding a small amount of the element indium into one of the cell layers during fabrication. That could increase the cell’s power output by as much as 25 per cent.|
|“We have been able to achieve a record efficiency of 16.6 per cent for a semi-transparent perovskite cell, and 24.5 per cent for a perovskite-silicon tandem, which is one of the highest efficiencies reported for this type of cell,” said Dr White.|
|Dr White said the research placed ANU in a small group of labs around the world with the capability to improve silicon solar cell efficiency using perovskites.|
|The development builds on the state-of-the-art silicon cell research at ANU and is part of a $12.2 million “High-efficiency silicon/perovskite solar cells” project led by University of New South Wales and supported by $3.6 million of funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.|
|Research partners include Monash University, Arizona State University, Suntech R&D Australia Pty Ltd and Trina Solar.|
|Source: The Australian National University|
A team of scientists at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia has announced the development of a nanostructure material made of what they are calling nanocones—it is a type of nanomaterial that can be added to boost the efficiency of photovoltaics by increasing their light absorbing abilities. In their paper published in the journal Science Advances, the team describes the new material, how it works, and their hopes for its use in a wide variety of photovoltaic applications.
The new cone structured material’s positive attributes come about due to an ultrahigh refractive index—each cone is made of a type of material that acts inside as an insulator and outside as a conductor—under a microscope the material looks like a mass of bullets stood up on end atop a flat base. It, like other topological insulators, exploits oscillations that occur as a result of changes in the concentration of electrons that come about when the material is struck by photons. Each cone has a metal shell coating and a core that is based on a dielectric—a material made with them would be able to provide superior light absorption properties, making it ideal for not just solar cells, but a wide variety of photovoltaic applications ranging from optical fibers to waveguides and even lenses. The researchers suggest that if such a material were to be used as part of a traditional thin-film solar cell, it could increase light absorption by up to 15 percent in both the visible and ultraviolet range.
In interviews with the press, the researchers pointed out that theirs is the first time that such a nanocone structure has been created and perhaps just as importantly, noted that creating them would not require any new fabrication techniques. Also, they suggested that because of the better light absorption properties of the new material, “both the short circuit current and photoelectric conversion efficiency could be enhanced.”
The researchers also note that unlike other nanostructures the oscillations generated by the nanocones are polarization insensitive, which means they do not have to be directionally perpendicular to nanoslits making them more useful in a wider array of applications because they can be directly integrated into current hardware. They add that they next plan to shift their efforts towards focusing on plasmonics that occur in other sorts of structures with different types of shapes.
Explore further: Nanocones could be key to making inexpensive solar cells
More information: Z. Yue et al. Intrinsically core-shell plasmonic dielectric nanostructures with ultrahigh refractive index, Science Advances (2016). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1501536
Topological insulators are a new class of quantum materials with metallic (edge) surface states and insulating bulk states. They demonstrate a variety of novel electronic and optical properties, which make them highly promising electronic, spintronic, and optoelectronic materials. We report on a novel conic plasmonic nanostructure that is made of bulk-insulating topological insulators and has an intrinsic core-shell formation. The insulating (dielectric) core of the nanocone displays an ultrahigh refractive index of up to 5.5 in the near-infrared frequency range. On the metallic shell, plasmonic response and strong backward light scattering were observed in the visible frequency range. Through integrating the nanocone arrays into a-Si thin film solar cells, up to 15% enhancement of light absorption was predicted in the ultraviolet and visible ranges. With these unique features, the intrinsically core-shell plasmonic nanostructure paves a new way for designing low-loss and high-performance visible to infrared optical devices.
The researchers also note that
California is committed to 33 percent energy from renewable resources by 2020. With that deadline fast approaching, researchers across the state are busy exploring options.
Solar energy is attractive but for widespread adoption, it requires transformation into a storable form. This week in ACS Central Science, researchers report that nanowires made from multiple metal oxides could put solar ahead in this race.
One way to harness solar power for broader use is through photoelectrochemical (PEC) water splitting that provides hydrogen for fuel cells. Many materials that can perform the reaction exist, but most of these candidates suffer from issues, ranging from efficiency to stability and cost.
Peidong Yang and colleagues designed a system where nanowires from one of the most commonly used materials (TiO2) acts as a “host” for “guest” nanoparticles from another oxide called BiVO4. BiVO4 is a newly introduced material that is among the best ones for absorbing light and performing the water splitting reaction, but does not carry charge well while TiO2 is stable, cheap and an efficient charge carrier but does not absorb light well.
Together with a unique studded nanowire architecture, the new system works better than either material alone.
The authors state their approach can be used to improve the efficiencies of other photoconversion materials.
We report the use of Ta:TiO2|BiVO4 as a photoanode for use in solar water splitting cells. This host−guest system makes use of the favorable band alignment between the two semiconductors. The nanowire architecture allows for simultaneously high light absorption and carrier collection for efficient solar water oxidation.
Metal oxides that absorb visible light are attractive for use as photoanodes in photoelectrosynthetic cells. However, their performance is often limited by poor charge carrier transport. We show that this problem can be addressed by using separate materials for light absorption and carrier transport. Here, we report a Ta:TiO2|BiVO4 nanowire photoanode, in which BiVO4 acts as a visible light-absorber and Ta:TiO2 acts as a high surface area electron conductor. Electrochemical and spectroscopic measurements provide experimental evidence for the type II band alignment necessary for favorable electron transfer from BiVO4 to TiO2. The host–guest nanowire architecture presented here allows for simultaneously high light absorption and carrier collection efficiency, with an onset of anodic photocurrent near 0.2 V vs RHE, and a photocurrent density of 2.1 mA/cm2 at 1.23 V vs RHE.
Article adapted from a American Chemical Society news release. To Read the FULL release, please click on the link provided below.
Publication: TiO2/BiVO4 Nanowire Heterostructure Photoanodes Based on Type II Band Alignment. Resasco, J et al. ACS Central Science (3 February, 2016): Click here to view.
Genesis Nanotechnology – “Great Things from Small Things”
29 Jan 2016
Readers’ Note: Dr. Alivisatos (Berkeley) has been a pioneer of ‘nano-cystals’ and their potential applications. Most recently these ‘crystals’ or Quantum Dots have found their way into commercial application for Display Screens. However the much larger vision for QD’s has significant (“game changing”) implications for: Solar Energy, Bio-Medicine, Drug Theranostics & Delivery, Lighting and Hybrid-Materials (Coatings, Paints, Security Inks as examples). Enjoy the Video ~ Team GNT
Nanosys scientific co-founder and Director of the Lawerence Berkeley National Lab, Dr. Paul Alivisatos, takes NBC Learn on a tour of Nanosys’ Silicon Valley Quantum Dot manufacturing facility.
The section on Nanosys begins at 2:16 – enjoy!
Dr Alivisatos, who recently received the 2016 National Medal of Science, talks with NBC reporter Kate Snow about how this amazing nanotechnology that he helped pioneer is changing the way our TVs work today:
SNOW: When quantum dots of different sizes are grouped together by the billions, they produce vivid colors that have changed the way we look at display screens. The initial research, funded by the NSF, has found its way into many applications, including a nanotechnology company called Nanosys, which produces 25 tons of quantum dot materials every year, enough for approximately 6 million 60 inch TVs.
ALIVISATOS: What we have here is a plastic film that contains inside of it quantum dots, very tiny, tiny crystals made out of semiconductors. It actually contains two sizes of nanoparticle – a very small size that emits a green color and a slightly larger size that emits a red color of light.
SNOW: This film is embedded into tablets, televisions, and laptops to enhance their displays with brilliant color.
ALIVISATOS: One of the things that we’ve learned about vision is that we have receptors in our eyes for green, red and blue colors. And if we want a really high quality display, we need to match the light emission from our display to the receptors in our eyes.
14 Jan 2016
|Perovskites, substances that perfectly absorb light, are the future of solar energy. The opportunity for their rapid dissemination has just increased thanks to a cheap and environmentally safe method of production of these materials, developed by chemists from Warsaw, Poland. Rather than in solutions at a high temperature, perovskites can now be synthesized by solid-state mechanochemical processes: by grinding powders.|
|We associate the milling of chemicals less often with progress than with old-fashioned pharmacies and their inherent attributes: the pestle and mortar. It’s time to change this! Recent research findings show that by the use of mechanical force, effective chemical transformations take place in solid state. Mechanochemical reactions have been under investigation for many years by the teams of Prof. Janusz Lewinski from the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IPC PAS) and the Faculty of Chemistry of Warsaw University of Technology.|
|In their latest publication (“Mechanosynthesis of the hybrid perovskite CH3NH3PbI3: characterization and the corresponding solar cell efficiency”), the Warsaw researchers describe a surprisingly simple and effective method of obtaining perovskites – futuristic photovoltaic materials with a spatially complex crystal structure.|
|A simple, fast and safe method of obtaining perovskites has been discovered by scientists from IPC PAS in Warsaw, Poland. The perovskite (a black powder) is milled from two powders: a white one, methylammonium iodide, and a yellow one, lead iodide.|
|“With the aid of mechanochemistry we are able to synthesize a variety of hybrid inorganic-organic functional materials with a potentially great significance for the energy sector. Our youngest ‘offspring’ are high quality perovskites. These compounds can be used to produce thin light-sensitive layers for high efficiency solar cells,” says Prof. Lewinski.|
|Perovskites are a large group of materials, characterized by a defined spatial crystalline structure. In nature, the perovskite naturally occurring as a mineral is calcium titanium(IV) oxide CaTiO3. Here the calcium atoms are arranged in the corners of the cube, in the middle of each wall there is an oxygen atom and at the centre of the cube lies a titanium atom. In other types of perovskite the same crystalline structure can be constructed of various organic and inorganic compounds, which means titanium can be replaced by, for example, lead, tin or germanium. As a result, the properties of the perovskite can be adjusted so as to best fit the specific application, for example, in photovoltaics or catalysis, but also in the construction of superconducting electromagnets, high voltage transformers, magnetic refrigerators, magnetic field sensors, or RAM memories.|
|At first glance, the method of production of perovskites using mechanical force, developed at the IPC PAS, looks a little like magic.|
|“Two powders are poured into the ball mill: a white one, methylammonium iodide CH3NH3I, and a yellow one, lead iodide PbI2. After several minutes of milling no trace is left of the substrates. Inside the mill there is only a homogeneous black powder: the perovskite CH3NH3PbI3,” explains doctoral student Anna Maria Cieslak (IPC PAS).|
|“Hour after hour of waiting for the reaction product? Solvents? High temperatures? In our method, all this turns out to be unnecessary! We produce chemical compounds by reactions occurring only in solids at room temperature,” stresses Dr. Daniel Prochowicz (IPC PAS).|
|The mechanochemically manufactured perovskites were sent to the team of Prof. Michael Graetzel from the Ecole Polytechnique de Lausanne in Switzerland, where they were used to build a new laboratory solar cell. The performance of the cell containing the perovskite with a mechanochemical pedigree proved to be more than 10% greater than a cell’s performance with the same construction, but containing an analogous perovskite obtained by the traditional method, involving solvents.|
|“The mechanochemical method of synthesis of perovskites is the most environmentally friendly method of producing this class of materials. Simple, efficient and fast, it is ideal for industrial applications. With full responsibility we can state: perovskites are the materials of the future, and mechanochemistry is the future of perovskites,” concludes Prof. Lewinski.|
|The described research will be developed within GOTSolar collaborative project funded by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 Future and Emerging Technologies action.|
|Perovskites are not the only group of three-dimensional materials that has been produced mechanochemically by Prof. Lewinski’s team. In a recent publication the Warsaw researchers showed that by using the milling technique they can also synthesize inorganic-organic microporous MOF (Metal-Organic Framework) materials. The free space inside these materials is the perfect place to store different chemicals, including hydrogen.|
|Source: Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences|
Australian solar power experts making up the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium have developed and begun to market solar cells that are created with a 3D printer.
The group, consisting of scientists from the CSIRO, the University of Melbourne and Monash University have been working on the technology for over seven years and have figured out a way to cheaply print the panels onto plastic, including smart-phones and laptops, enabling self charging electronics. They are also able to print directly on to walls and windows using an opaque solar film and claim that they can line a skyscraper with panels, making it totally electrically self sufficient.
“We print them onto plastic in more or less the same way we print our plastic banknotes,” said Fiona Scholes, senior research scientist at CSIRO. “Connecting our solar panels is as simple as connecting a battery. It’s very cheap. The way in which it looks and works is quite different to conventional silicon rooftop solar.”
The next step is to create a solar spray coating to enhance the power of the panel. “We would like to improve the efficiency of solar panels – we need to develop solar inks to generate more energy from sunlight,” said Scholes. “We are confident we can push the technology further in the years to come.”
01 Oct 2015
Using nanometer-scale components, researchers have demonstrated the first optical rectenna, a device that combines the functions of an antenna and a rectifier diode to convert light directly into DC current.
Based on multiwall carbon nanotubes and tiny rectifiers fabricated onto them, the optical rectennas could provide a new technology for photodetectors that would operate without the need for cooling, energy harvesters that would convert waste heat to electricity — and ultimately for a new way to efficiently capture solar energy.
In the new devices, developed by engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, the carbon nanotubes act as antennas to capture light from the sun or other sources. As the waves of light hit the nanotube antennas, they create an oscillating charge that moves through rectifier devices attached to them. The rectifiers switch on and off at record high petahertz speeds, creating a small direct current.
Billions of rectennas in an array can produce significant current, though the efficiency of the devices demonstrated so far remains below one percent. The researchers hope to boost that output through optimization techniques, and believe that a rectenna with commercial potential may be available within a year.
“We could ultimately make solar cells that are twice as efficient at a cost that is ten times lower, and that is to me an opportunity to change the world in a very big way” said Baratunde Cola, an associate professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech. “As a robust, high-temperature detector, these rectennas could be a completely disruptive technology if we can get to one percent efficiency. If we can get to higher efficiencies, we could apply it to energy conversion technologies and solar energy capture.”
The research, supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Space and Naval Warfare (SPAWAR) Systems Center and the Army Research Office (ARO), is scheduled to be reported September 28 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
Developed in the 1960s and 1970s, rectennas have operated at wavelengths as short as ten microns, but for more than 40 years researchers have been attempting to make devices at optical wavelengths. There were many challenges: making the antennas small enough to couple optical wavelengths, and fabricating a matching rectifier diode small enough and able to operate fast enough to capture the electromagnetic wave oscillations. But the potential of high efficiency and low cost kept scientists working on the technology.
“The physics and the scientific concepts have been out there,” said Cola. “Now was the perfect time to try some new things and make a device work, thanks to advances in fabrication technology.”
Using metallic multiwall carbon nanotubes and nanoscale fabrication techniques, Cola and collaborators Asha Sharma, Virendra Singh and Thomas Bougher constructed devices that utilize the wave nature of light rather than its particle nature. They also used a long series of tests — and more than a thousand devices — to verify measurements of both current and voltage to confirm the existence of rectenna functions that had been predicted theoretically. The devices operated at a range of temperatures from 5 to 77 degrees Celsius.
Fabricating the rectennas begins with growing forests of vertically-aligned carbon nanotubes on a conductive substrate. Using atomic layer chemical vapor deposition, the nanotubes are coated with an aluminum oxide material to insulate them. Finally, physical vapor deposition is used to deposit optically-transparent thin layers of calcium then aluminum metals atop the nanotube forest. The difference of work functions between the nanotubes and the calcium provides a potential of about two electron volts, enough to drive electrons out of the carbon nanotube antennas when they are excited by light.
In operation, oscillating waves of light pass through the transparent calcium-aluminum electrode and interact with the nanotubes. The metal-insulator-metal junctions at the nanotube tips serve as rectifiers switching on and off at femtosecond intervals, allowing electrons generated by the antenna to flow one way into the top electrode. Ultra-low capacitance, on the order of a few attofarads, enables the 10-nanometer diameter diode to operate at these exceptional frequencies.
“A rectenna is basically an antenna coupled to a diode, but when you move into the optical spectrum, that usually means a nanoscale antenna coupled to a metal-insulator-metal diode,” Cola explained. “The closer you can get the antenna to the diode, the more efficient it is. So the ideal structure uses the antenna as one of the metals in the diode — which is the structure we made.”
The rectennas fabricated by Cola’s group are grown on rigid substrates, but the goal is to grow them on a foil or other material that would produce flexible solar cells or photodetectors.
Cola sees the rectennas built so far as simple proof of principle. He has ideas for how to improve the efficiency by changing the materials, opening the carbon nanotubes to allow multiple conduction channels, and reducing resistance in the structures.
“We think we can reduce the resistance by several orders of magnitude just by improving the fabrication of our device structures,” he said. “Based on what others have done and what the theory is showing us, I believe that these devices could get to greater than 40 percent efficiency.”
- Asha Sharma, Virendra Singh, Thomas L. Bougher, Baratunde A. Cola. A carbon nanotube optical rectenna. Nature Nanotechnology, 2015; DOI: 10.1038/nnano.2015.220
Developing transparent or semitransparent solar cells with high efficiency and low cost to replace the existing opaque and expensive silicon-based solar panels has become increasingly important due to the increasing demands of the building integrated photovoltaics (BIPVs) systems. The Department of Applied Physics of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) has successfully developed efficient and low-cost semitransparent perovskite solar cells with graphene electrodes. The power conversion efficiencies (PCEs) of this novel invention are around 12% when they are illuminated from Fluorine-doped Tin Oxide bottom electrodes (FTO) or the graphene top electrodes, compared with 7% of conventional semitransparent solar cells. Its potential low cost of less than HK$0.5/Watt, more than 50% reduction compared with the existing cost of Silicon solar cells, will enable it to be widely used in the future.
Solar energy is an important source of renewable energy, in which solar cell will be used to convert light energy directly into electricity by photovoltaic effect. The first generation crystalline silicon solar panel is highly stable with efficient energy conversion, but opaque and expensive. The second generation solar cell, namely thin film solar cell, is light in weight and can be made flexible. However, they are made of rare materials with complicated structure and need high temperature treatments. With the research objectives of producing solar panels of high PCEs, easy fabrication, and low cost, in recent years, scientists have been investigating third generation solar cells. Perovskite solar cell as a novel third generation solar cell has attracted much attention recently due to its high power conversion efficiency, convenient fabrication process and potentially low cost.
With the aim of improving PCEs and reducing costs of semitransparent solar panels, PolyU researcher has developed the first-ever made semitransparent perovskite solar cells with graphene as electrode. Graphene is an ideal candidate for transparent electrodes in solar cells with high transparency, good conductivity and potentially low cost. The semitransparent feature of the solar cell enables it to absorb light from both sides, and can be widely used in windows, facades, louvers and rooftops of buildings for converting solar energy into electricity, thus increasing the surface area for collecting solar energy substantially.
While graphene as an advanced material was invented more than 10 years ago, PolyU innovated simple processing techniques for enhancing the conductivity of graphene to meet the requirement of its applications in solar cells. Firstly, the conductivity of graphene was dramatically improved by coating a thin layer of conductive polymer poly-(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene): poly(styrenesulfonate) (PEDOT:PSS), that was also used as an adhesion layer to the perovskite active layer during the lamination process. Secondly, to further improve the efficiency of power conversion, PolyU researcher found that by fabricating the solar cell with multilayer chemical vapor deposition graphene as top transparent electrodes, the sheet resistance of the electrode could be further reduced while maintaining the high transparency of the electrodes. Lastly, the performance of this novel invention is further optimized by improving the contact between the top graphene electrodes and the hole transport layer (spiro-OMeTAD) on the perovskite films.
Because of the excellent mechanical flexibility of graphene and the convenient preparation of the devices, PolyU’s invention can be used for the mass production of the semitransparent perovskite solar cells with printing or roll to roll process. The semitransparent solar cells will fill the gap in the market which is not achievable by the existing solar cells dominating the market.
Study findings have been published in Advanced Materials, a leading journal in material science.
02 Sep 2015
|By combining designer quantum dot light-emitters with spectrally matched photonic mirrors, a team of scientists with Berkeley Lab and the University of Illinois created solar cells that collect blue photons at 30 times the concentration of conventional solar cells, the highest luminescent concentration factor ever recorded. This breakthrough paves the way for the future development of low-cost solar cells that efficiently utilize the high-energy part of the solar spectrum.|
|“We’ve achieved a luminescent concentration ratio greater than 30 with an optical efficiency of 82-percent for blue photons,” says Berkeley Lab director Paul Alivisatos, who is also the Samsung Distinguished Professor of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology at the University of California Berkeley, and director of the Kavli Energy Nanoscience Institute (ENSI), was the co-leader of this research. “To the best of our knowledge, this is the highest luminescent concentration factor in literature to date.”|
|Luminescent solar concentrators featuring quantum dots and photonic mirrors suffer far less parasitic loss of photons than LSCs using molecular dyes as lumophores.|
|Alivisatos and Ralph Nuzzo of the University of Illinois are the corresponding authors of a paper in ACS Photonics describing this research entitled “Quantum Dot Luminescent Concentrator Cavity Exhibiting 30-fold Concentration”. Noah Bronstein, a member of Alivisatos’s research group, is one of three lead authors along with Yuan Yao and Lu Xu. Other co-authors are Erin O’Brien, Alexander Powers and Vivian Ferry.|
|The solar energy industry in the United States is soaring with the number of photovoltaic installations having grown from generating 1.2 gigawatts of electricity in 2008 to generating 20-plus gigawatts today, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Still, nearly 70-percent of the electricity generated in this country continues to come from fossil fuels. Low-cost alternatives to today’s photovoltaic solar panels are needed for the immense advantages of solar power to be fully realized. One promising alternative has been luminescent solar concentrators (LSCs).|
|Unlike conventional solar cells that directly absorb sunlight and convert it into electricity, an LSC absorbs the light on a plate embedded with highly efficient light-emitters called “lumophores” that then re-emit the absorbed light at longer wavelengths, a process known as the Stokes shift. This re-emitted light is directed to a micro-solar cell for conversion to electricity. Because the plate is much larger than the micro-solar cell, the solar energy hitting the cell is highly concentrated.|
|With a sufficient concentration factor, only small amounts of expensive III-V photovoltaic materials are needed to collect light from an inexpensive luminescent waveguide. However, the concentration factor and collection efficiency of the molecular dyes that up until now have been used as lumophores are limited by parasitic losses, including non-unity quantum yields of the lumophores, imperfect light trapping within the waveguide, and reabsorption and scattering of propagating photons.|
|“We replaced the molecular dyes in previous LSC systems with core/shell nanoparticles composed of cadmium selenide (CdSe) cores and cadmium sulfide (CdS) shells that increase the Stokes shift while reducing photon re-absorption,” says Bronstein.|
|“The CdSe/CdS nanoparticles enabled us to decouple absorption from emission energy and volume, which in turn allowed us to balance absorption and scattering to obtain the optimum nanoparticle,” he says. “Our use of photonic mirrors that are carefully matched to the narrow bandwidth of our quantum dot lumophores allowed us to achieve waveguide efficiency exceeding the limit imposed by total internal reflection.”|
|In their ACS Photonics paper, the collaborators express confidence that future LSC devices will achieve even higher concentration ratios through improvements to the luminescence quantum yield, waveguide geometry, and photonic mirror design.|
|The success of this CdSe/CdS nanoparticle-based LSC system led to a partnership between Berkeley Lab, the University of Illinois, Caltech and the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) on a new solar concentrator project. At the recent Clean Energy Summit held in Las Vegas, President Obama and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced this partnership will receive a $3 million grant for the development of a micro-optical tandem LCS under MOSAIC, the newest program from DOE’s ARPA-E. MOSAIC stands for Micro-scale Optimized Solar-cell Arrays with Integrated Concentration.|
|The LCS work reported in this story was carried out through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Frontier Research Center program and the National Science Foundation.|
|Source: By Lynn Yarris, Berkeley Lab|
“This result was a stretch project milestone for the entire five years of JCAP as a whole, and not only have we achieved this goal, we also achieved it on time and on budget,” says Caltech’s Nate Lewis, George L. Argyros Professor and professor of chemistry, and the JCAP scientific director.
The new solar fuel generation system, or artificial leaf, is described in the August 24 online issue of the journal Energy and Environmental Science. The work was done by researchers in the laboratories of Lewis and Harry Atwater, director of JCAP and Howard Hughes Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science.
“This accomplishment drew on the knowledge, insights and capabilities of JCAP, which illustrates what can be achieved in a Hub-scale effort by an integrated team,” Atwater says. “The device reported here grew out of a multi-year, large-scale effort to define the design and materials components needed for an integrated solar fuels generator.”
The new system consists of three main components: two electrodes–one photoanode and one photocathode–and a membrane. The photoanode uses sunlight to oxidize water molecules, generating protons and electrons as well as oxygen gas. The photocathode recombines the protons and electrons to form hydrogen gas. A key part of the JCAP design is the plastic membrane, which keeps the oxygen and hydrogen gases separate. If the two gases are allowed to mix and are accidentally ignited, an explosion can occur; the membrane lets the hydrogen fuel be separately collected under pressure and safely pushed into a pipeline.
Semiconductors such as silicon or gallium arsenide absorb light efficiently and are therefore used in solar panels. However, these materials also oxidize (or rust) on the surface when exposed to water, so cannot be used to directly generate fuel. A major advance that allowed the integrated system to be developed was previous work in Lewis’s laboratory, which showed that adding a nanometers-thick layer of titanium dioxide (TiO2)–a material found in white paint and many toothpastes and sunscreens–onto the electrodes could prevent them from corroding while still allowing light and electrons to pass through. The new complete solar fuel generation system developed by Lewis and colleagues uses such a 62.5-nanometer-thick TiO2 layer to effectively prevent corrosion and improve the stability of a gallium arsenide-based photoelectrode.
Another key advance is the use of active, inexpensive catalysts for fuel production. The photoanode requires a catalyst to drive the essential water-splitting reaction. Rare and expensive metals such as platinum can serve as effective catalysts, but in its work the team discovered that it could create a much cheaper, active catalyst by adding a 2-nanometer-thick layer of nickel to the surface of the TiO2. This catalyst is among the most active known catalysts for splitting water molecules into oxygen, protons, and electrons and is a key to the high efficiency displayed by the device.
The photoanode was grown onto a photocathode, which also contains a highly active, inexpensive, nickel-molybdenum catalyst, to create a fully integrated single material that serves as a complete solar-driven water-splitting system.
A critical component that contributes to the efficiency and safety of the new system is the special plastic membrane that separates the gases and prevents the possibility of an explosion, while still allowing the ions to flow seamlessly to complete the electrical circuit in the cell. All of the components are stable under the same conditions and work together to produce a high-performance, fully integrated system. The demonstration system is approximately one square centimeter in area, converts 10 percent of the energy in sunlight into stored energy in the chemical fuel, and can operate for more than 40 hours continuously.
“This new system shatters all of the combined safety, performance, and stability records for artificial leaf technology by factors of 5 to 10 or more ,” Lewis says.
“Our work shows that it is indeed possible to produce fuels from sunlight safely and efficiently in an integrated system with inexpensive components,” Lewis adds, “Of course, we still have work to do to extend the lifetime of the system and to develop methods for cost-effectively manufacturing full systems, both of which are in progress.”
Because the work assembled various components that were developed by multiple teams within JCAP, coauthor Chengxiang Xiang, who is co-leader of the JCAP prototyping and scale-up project, says that the successful end result was a collaborative effort. “JCAP’s research and development in device design, simulation, and materials discovery and integration all funneled into the demonstration of this new device,” Xiang says.