Nanotechnology Now

Our NanoNews Digest Sponsors

Heifer International

Wikipedia Affiliate Button

Home > Press > Argonne "homegrown" hybrid solar cell aims for low-cost power

This computer-generated image shows nanotubes, 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, which comprise a new technique developed at Argonne for "growing" solar cells. 

Image courtesy Seth Darling (of the Center for Nanoscale Materials) and Argonne National Laboratory.
This computer-generated image shows nanotubes, 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, which comprise a new technique developed at Argonne for "growing" solar cells. Image courtesy Seth Darling (of the Center for Nanoscale Materials) and Argonne National Laboratory.

Abstract:
Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have refined a technique to manufacture solar cells by creating tubes of semiconducting material and then "growing" polymers directly inside them. The method has the potential to be significantly cheaper than the process used to make today's commercial solar cells.

Argonne "homegrown" hybrid solar cell aims for low-cost power

Lemont, IL | Posted on December 1st, 2009

Because the production costs of today's generation of solar cells prevent them from competing economically with fossil fuels, Argonne researchers are working to re-imagine the solar cell's basic design. Most current solar cells use crystalline silicon or cadmium telluride, but growing a high-purity crystal is energy- and labor-intensive, making the cells expensive.

The next generation, called hybrid solar cells, uses a blend of cheaper organic and inorganic materials. To combine these materials effectively, Argonne researchers created a new technique to grow organic polymers directly inside inorganic nanotubes.

At its most basic level, solar cell technology relies on a series of processes initiated when photons, or particles of light, strike semiconducting material. When a photon hits the cell, it excites one electron out of its initial state, leaving behind a "hole" of positive charge.

Hybrid solar cells contain two separate types of semiconducting material: one conducts electrons, the other holes. At the junction between the two semiconductors, the electron-hole pair gets pulled apart, creating a current.

In the study, Argonne nanoscientist Seth Darling and colleagues at Argonne and the University of Chicago had to rethink the geometry of the two materials. If the two semiconductors are placed too far apart, the electron-hole pair will die in transit. However, if they're packed too closely, the separated charges won't make it out of the cell.

In designing an alternative, scientists paired an electron-donating conjugated polymer with the electron acceptor titanium dioxide (TiO2).

Titanium dioxide readily forms miniscule tubes just tens of nanometers across—10,000 times smaller than a human hair. Rows of tiny, uniform nanotubes sprout across a film of titanium that has been submerged in an electrochemical bath.

The next step required the researchers to fill the nanotubes with the organic polymer—a frustrating process.

"Filling nanotubes with polymer is like trying to stuff wet spaghetti into a table full of tiny holes," Darling said. "The polymer ends up bending and twisting, which leads to inefficiencies both because it traps pockets of air as it goes and because twisted polymers don't conduct charges as well.

"In addition, this polymer doesn't like titanium dioxide," Darling added. "So it pulls away from the interface whenever it can."

Trying to sidestep this problem, the team hit on the idea of growing the polymer directly inside the tubes. They filled the tubes with a polymer precursor, turned on ultraviolet light, and let the polymers grow within the tubes.

Grown this way, the polymer doesn't shy away from the TiO2. In fact, tests suggest the two materials actually mingle at the molecular level; together they are able to capture light at wavelengths inaccessible to either of the two materials alone. This "homegrown" method is potentially much less expensive than the energy-intensive process that produces the silicon crystals used in today's solar cells.

These devices dramatically outperform those fabricated by filling the nanotubes with pre-grown polymer, producing about 10 times more electricity from absorbed sunlight. The solar cells produced by this technique, however, do not currently harness as much of the available energy from sunlight as silicon cells can. Darling hopes that further experiments will improve the cells' efficiency.

The paper, entitled "Improved Hybrid Solar Cells via in situ UV Polymerization", was published in the journal Small and is available online.

Funding for this research was provided by the Department of Energy's Office of Basic Energy Sciences and by the NSF-Materials Research Science and Engineering Center at the University of Chicago.

####

About Argonne National Laboratory
Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation's first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America 's scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.

For more information, please click here

Contacts:
Angela Hardin
630/252-5501

Copyright © Argonne National Laboratory

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

News and information

New Method Uses DNA, Nanoparticles and Top-Down Lithography to Make Optically Active Structures: Technique could lead to new classes of materials that can bend light, such as for those used in cloaking devices January 18th, 2018

Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals Announces Pricing of Underwritten Public Offering of Common Stock January 18th, 2018

Leti to Demo New Curving Technology at Photonics West that Improves Performance of Optical Components January 18th, 2018

Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals Announces Proposed Underwritten Offering of Common Stock January 17th, 2018

Govt.-Legislation/Regulation/Funding/Policy

New Method Uses DNA, Nanoparticles and Top-Down Lithography to Make Optically Active Structures: Technique could lead to new classes of materials that can bend light, such as for those used in cloaking devices January 18th, 2018

Ultra-thin memory storage device paves way for more powerful computing January 17th, 2018

'Gyroscope' molecules form crystal that's both solid and full of motion: New type of molecular machine designed by UCLA researchers could have wide-ranging applications in technology and science January 16th, 2018

The nanoscopic structure that locks up our genes January 16th, 2018

Possible Futures

New Method Uses DNA, Nanoparticles and Top-Down Lithography to Make Optically Active Structures: Technique could lead to new classes of materials that can bend light, such as for those used in cloaking devices January 18th, 2018

Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals Announces Pricing of Underwritten Public Offering of Common Stock January 18th, 2018

Leti to Demo New Curving Technology at Photonics West that Improves Performance of Optical Components January 18th, 2018

Ultra-thin optical fibers offer new way to 3-D print microstructures: Novel approach lays groundwork for using 3-D printing to repair tissue in the body January 17th, 2018

Nanotubes/Buckyballs/Fullerenes/Nanorods

Nanotube fibers in a jiffy: Rice University lab makes short nanotube samples by hand to dramatically cut production time January 11th, 2018

Touchy nanotubes work better when clean: Rice, Swansea scientists show that decontaminating nanotubes can simplify nanoscale devices January 4th, 2018

Paving the way for a non-electric battery to store solar energy: UMass Amherst scientists say a polymer chain organized like a string of Christmas lights assists energy storage December 22nd, 2017

Nanotubes go with the flow to penetrate brain tissue: Rice University scientists, engineers develop microfluidic devices, microelectrodes for gentle implantation December 19th, 2017

Announcements

New Method Uses DNA, Nanoparticles and Top-Down Lithography to Make Optically Active Structures: Technique could lead to new classes of materials that can bend light, such as for those used in cloaking devices January 18th, 2018

Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals Announces Pricing of Underwritten Public Offering of Common Stock January 18th, 2018

Leti to Demo New Curving Technology at Photonics West that Improves Performance of Optical Components January 18th, 2018

Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals Announces Proposed Underwritten Offering of Common Stock January 17th, 2018

Energy

Ultrathin black phosphorus for solar-driven hydrogen economy: Osaka University researchers use sunlight to make hydrogen with a new nanostructured catalyst based on nanosheets of black phosphorus and bismuth vanadate January 17th, 2018

New catalyst for hydrogen production is a step toward clean fuel: Carbon-based nanocomposite with embedded metal ions yields impressive performance as catalyst for electrolysis of water to generate hydrogen January 16th, 2018

Rice U.'s one-step catalyst turns nitrates into water and air: NSF-funded NEWT Center aims for catalytic converter for nitrate-polluted water January 5th, 2018

Tweaking quantum dots powers-up double-pane solar windows: Engineered quantum dots could bring down the cost of solar electricity January 2nd, 2018

Solar/Photovoltaic

Tweaking quantum dots powers-up double-pane solar windows: Engineered quantum dots could bring down the cost of solar electricity January 2nd, 2018

Record high photoconductivity for new metal-organic framework material December 15th, 2017

Inorganic-organic halide perovskites for new photovoltaic technology November 6th, 2017

New nanomaterial can extract hydrogen fuel from seawater: Hybrid material converts more sunlight and can weather seawater's harsh conditions October 4th, 2017

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