Nanotechnology Now

Our NanoNews Digest Sponsors





Heifer International

Wikipedia Affiliate Button


android tablet pc

Home > Press > 3D Solar Cells Boost Efficiency, Reduce Size

Abstract:
New design uses "nano-Manhattan" carbon nanotube towers

Atlanta

3D Solar Cells Boost Efficiency, Reduce Size

Atlanta, GA | Posted on April 11th, 2007

Unique three-dimensional solar cells that capture nearly all of the light that strikes them could boost the efficiency of photovoltaic (PV) systems while reducing their size, weight and mechanical complexity.

The new 3D solar cells capture photons from sunlight using an array of miniature "tower" structures that resemble high-rise buildings in a city street grid. The cells could find near-term applications for powering spacecraft, and by enabling efficiency improvements in photovoltaic coating materials, could also change the way solar cells are designed for a broad range of applications.

"Our goal is to harvest every last photon that is available to our cells," said Jud Ready, a senior research engineer in the Electro-Optical Systems Laboratory at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI). "By capturing more of the light in our 3D structures, we can use much smaller photovoltaic arrays. On a satellite or other spacecraft, that would mean less weight and less space taken up with the PV system."

The 3D design was described in the March 2007 issue of the journal JOM, published by The Minerals, Metals and Materials Society. The research has been sponsored by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Air Force Research Laboratory, NewCyte Inc., and Intellectual Property Partners, LLC. A global patent application has been filed for the technology.

The GTRI photovoltaic cells trap light between their tower structures, which are about 100 microns tall, 40 microns by 40 microns square, 10 microns apartóand built from arrays containing millions of vertically-aligned carbon nanotubes. Conventional flat solar cells reflect a significant portion of the light that strikes them, reducing the amount of energy they absorb.

Because the tower structures can trap and absorb light received from many different angles, the new cells remain efficient even when the sun is not directly overhead. That could allow them to be used on spacecraft without the mechanical aiming systems that maintain a constant orientation to the sun, reducing weight and complexity - and improving reliability.

"The efficiency of our cells increases as the sunlight goes away from perpendicular, so we may not need mechanical arrays to rotate our cells," Ready noted.

The ability of the 3D cells to absorb virtually all of the light that strikes them could also enable improvements in the efficiency with which the cells convert the photons they absorb into electrical current.

In conventional flat solar cells, the photovoltaic coatings must be thick enough to capture the photons, whose energy then liberates electrons from the photovoltaic materials to create electrical current. However, each mobile electron leaves behind a "hole" in the atomic matrix of the coating. The longer it takes electrons to exit the PV material, the more likely it is that they will recombine with a holeóreducing the electrical current.

Because the 3D cells absorb more of the photons than conventional cells, their coatings can be made thinner, allowing the electrons to exit more quickly, reducing the likelihood that recombination will take place. That boosts the "quantum efficiency" - the rate at which absorbed photons are converted to electrons - of the 3D cells.

Fabrication of the cells begins with a silicon wafer, which can also serve as the solar cell's bottom junction. The researchers first coat the wafer with a thin layer of iron using a photolithography process that can create a wide variety of patterns. The patterned wafer is then placed into a furnace heated to 780 degrees Celsius. Hydrocarbon gases are then flowed into furnace, where the carbon and hydrogen separate. In a process known as chemical vapor deposition, the carbon grows arrays of multi-walled carbon nanotubes atop the iron patterns.

Once the carbon nanotube towers have been grown, the researchers use a process known as molecular beam epitaxy to coat them with cadmium telluride (CdTe) and cadmium sulfide (CdS) which serve as the p-type and n-type photovoltaic layers. Atop that, a thin coating of indium tin oxide, a clear conducting material, is added to serve as the cell's top electrode.

In the finished cells, the carbon nanotube arrays serve both as support for the 3D arrays and as a conductor connecting the photovoltaic materials to the silicon wafer.

The researchers chose to make their prototypes cells from the cadmium materials because they were familiar with them from other research. However, a broad range of other photovoltaic materials could also be used, and selecting the best material for specific applications will be a goal of future research.

Ready also wants to study the optimal heights and spacing for the towers, and to determine the trade-offs between spacing and the angle at which the light hits the structures.

The new cells face several hurdles before they can be commercially produced. Testing must verify their ability to survive launch and operation in space, for instance. And production techniques will have to scaled up from the current two-inch laboratory prototypes.

"We have demonstrated that we can extract electrons using this approach," Ready said. "Now we need to get a good baseline to see where we compare to existing materials, how to optimize this and what's needed to advance this technology."

Intellectual Property Partners of Atlanta holds the rights to the 3D solar cell design and is seeking partners to commercialize the technology.

Another commercialization path is being followed by an Ohio company, NewCyte, which is partnering with GTRI to use the 3D approach for terrestrial solar cells. The Air Force Office of Scientific Research has awarded the company a Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant to develop the technology.

"NewCyte has patent pending, low cost technology for depositing semiconductor layers directly on individual fullerenes," explained Dennis J. Flood, NewCyte's president and CTO. "We are using our technology to grow the same semiconductor layers on the carbon nanotube towers that GTRI has already demonstrated. Our goal is to achieve performance and cost levels that will make solar cells using the GTRI 3D cell structure competitive in the broader terrestrial solar cell market."

In addition to Ready, others Georgia Tech researchers contributing to the work include R.E. Camacho, A.R. Morgan, M.C. Flores, T.A. McLeod, V.S. Kumsomboone, B.J. Mordecai, R. Bhattacharagjea, W. Tong, B.K. Wagner, J.D. Flicker and S.P. Turano.

####

About Georgia Tech
The Georgia Institute of Technology is one of the nation's premiere research universities. Ranked eighth among U.S. News & World Report's top public universities, Georgia Tech's 17,000 students are enrolled in its Colleges of Architecture, Computing, Engineering, Liberal Arts, Management and Sciences. Tech is among the nation's top producers of women and African-American engineers. The Institute offers research opportunities to both undergraduate and graduate students and is home to more than 100 interdisciplinary units plus the Georgia Tech Research Institute.

For more information, please click here

Contacts:
John Toon
Research News & Publications Office
Contact John
404-894-6986

Kirk Englehardt
(404-407-7280)

Copyright © Georgia Tech

If you have a comment, please Contact us.

Issuers of news releases, not 7th Wave, Inc. or Nanotechnology Now, are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content.

Bookmark:
Delicious Digg Newsvine Google Yahoo Reddit Magnoliacom Furl Facebook

Related News Press

Discoveries

UCF Nanotech Spinout Developing Revolutionary Battery Technology: Power the Next Generation of Electronics with Carbon July 23rd, 2014

A Crystal Wedding in the Nanocosmos July 23rd, 2014

Nano-sized Chip "Sniffs Out" Explosives Far Better than Trained Dogs: TAU researcher's groundbreaking sensor detects miniscule concentrations of hazardous materials in the air July 23rd, 2014

NIST shows ultrasonically propelled nanorods spin dizzyingly fast July 22nd, 2014

Announcements

Harris & Harris Group to Host Conference Call on Second-Quarter 2014 Financial Results on August 15, 2014 July 23rd, 2014

UCF Nanotech Spinout Developing Revolutionary Battery Technology: Power the Next Generation of Electronics with Carbon July 23rd, 2014

Deadline Announced for Registration in 7th Int'l Nanotechnology Festival in Iran July 23rd, 2014

A Crystal Wedding in the Nanocosmos July 23rd, 2014

Energy

Oregon chemists eye improved thin films with metal substitution: Solution-based inorganic process could drive more efficient electronics and solar devices July 21st, 2014

Steam from the sun: New spongelike structure converts solar energy into steam July 21st, 2014

3-D nanostructure could benefit nanoelectronics, gas storage: Rice U. researchers predict functional advantages of 3-D boron nitride July 15th, 2014

Nanotechnology that will impact the Security & Defense sectors to be discussed at NanoSD2014 conference July 8th, 2014

Solar/Photovoltaic

Steam from the sun: New spongelike structure converts solar energy into steam July 21st, 2014

Making dreams come true: Making graphene from plastic? July 2nd, 2014

Shrinky Dinks close the gap for nanowires July 1st, 2014

New Study Raises Possibility of Production of P-Type Solar Cells July 1st, 2014

NanoNews-Digest
The latest news from around the world, FREE



  Premium Products
NanoNews-Custom
Only the news you want to read!
 Learn More
NanoTech-Transfer
University Technology Transfer & Patents
 Learn More
NanoStrategies
Full-service, expert consulting
 Learn More














ASP
Nanotechnology Now Featured Books




NNN

The Hunger Project







© Copyright 1999-2014 7th Wave, Inc. All Rights Reserved PRIVACY POLICY :: CONTACT US :: STATS :: SITE MAP :: ADVERTISE