Nanotechnology Now







Heifer International

Wikipedia Affiliate Button


DHgate

Home > Press > New way to grow microwires

This new technique for growing microwires can produce strands that are very long in relation to their diameter. The rounded “cap” at the wire’s top is a droplet of molten copper, while the wire itself is pure silicon. Image courtesy of Tonio Buonassisi
This new technique for growing microwires can produce strands that are very long in relation to their diameter. The rounded “cap” at the wire’s top is a droplet of molten copper, while the wire itself is pure silicon. Image courtesy of Tonio Buonassisi

Abstract:
Researchers find simple, inexpensive method to produce silicon wires for sensors, batteries and solar cells.

By David L. Chandler, MIT News Office

New way to grow microwires

Cambridge, MA | Posted on February 7th, 2011

Microwires made of silicon — tiny wires with a thickness comparable to a human hair — have a wide range of possible uses, including the production of solar cells that can harvest much more sunlight for a given amount of material than a conventional solar cell made from a thin wafer of silicon crystal. Now researchers from MIT and Penn State have found a way of producing such wires in quantity in a highly controlled way that could be scaled up to an industrial-scale process, potentially leading to practical commercial applications.

Other ways of making such wires are already known, and prototypes of solar cells made from them have been produced by several researchers. But these methods have serious limitations, says Tonio Buonassisi, MIT professor of mechanical engineering and a co-author of a paper on the new work that was recently published online in the journal Small, and will soon appear in the print edition. Most require several extra manufacturing steps, provide little control over the exact sizes and spacing of the wires, and only work on flat surfaces. By contrast, the new process is simple yet allows precise control over the wire dimensions and spacing, and could theoretically be done on any kind of curved, 3-D surface.

Microwires are thought to be capable of reaching efficiencies close to those of conventional solar cells in converting sunlight to electricity, but because the wires are so tiny they would do so using only a small fraction of the amount of expensive silicon needed for the conventional cells, thus potentially achieving major reductions in cost.

In addition to microwires' potential use in solar cells, other researchers have proposed ways such microscopic wires could be used to build new kinds of transistors and integrated circuits, as well as electrodes for advanced batteries and certain kinds of environmental monitoring devices. For any of these ideas to be practical, however, there must be an efficient, scalable manufacturing method.

The new method involves heating and intentionally contaminating the surface of a silicon wafer with copper, which diffuses into the silicon. Then, when the silicon slowly cools, the copper diffuses out to form droplets on the surface. Then, when it is placed in an atmosphere of silicon tetrachloride gas, silicon microwires begin to grow outward wherever there is a copper droplet on the surface. Silicon in the gas dissolves into these copper droplets, and then after reaching a sufficient concentration begins to precipitate out at the bottom of the droplet, onto the silicon surface below. This buildup of silicon gradually elongates to form microwires each only about 10 to 20 micrometers (millionths of a meter) across, growing up from the surface. The whole process can be carried out repeatedly on an industrial manufacturing scale, Buonassisi says, or even could potentially be adapted to a continuous process.

The spacing of the wires is controlled by textures created on the surface — tiny dimples can form centers for the copper droplets — but the size of the wires is controlled by the temperatures used for the diffusion stage of the process. Thus, unlike in other production methods, the size and spacing of the wires can be controlled independently of each other, Buonassisi says.

The work done so far is just a proof of principle, he says, and more work remains to be done to find the best combinations of temperature profiles, copper concentrations and surface patterning for various applications, since the process allows for orders-of-magnitude differences in the size of the wires. For example, it remains to be determined what thickness and spacing of wires produces the most efficient solar cells. But this work demonstrates a potential for a kind of solar cell based on such wires that could significantly lower costs, both by allowing the use of lower grades of silicon (that is, less-highly refined), since the process of wire growth helps to purify the material, and by using much smaller amounts of it, since the tiny wires are made up of just a tiny fraction of the amount needed for conventional silicon crystal wafers. "This is still in a very early stage," Buonassisi says, because in deciding on a configuration for such a solar cell "there are so many things to optimize."

Michael Kelzenberg, a postdoctoral scholar at the California Institute of Technology who has spent the last five years doing research on silicon microwires, says that while others have used the copper-droplet technique for growing microwires, "What's really new here is the method of producing those liquid metal droplets." While others have had to place the droplets of molten copper on the silicon plate, requiring extra processing steps, "Buonassisi and his colleagues have shown that metal can be diffused into the growth substrate beforehand, and through careful heating and cooling, the metal droplets will actually form on their own — with the correct position and size."

Kelzenberg adds that his research group has recently demonstrated that silicon microwire solar cells can equal the efficiency of today's typical commercial solar cells. "I think the greatest challenge remaining is to show that this technique is more cost-effective or otherwise beneficial than other catalyst metal production methods," he says. But overall, he says, some version of silicon microwire technology "has the potential to enable dramatic cost reductions" of solar panels.

The paper was co-authored by Vidya Ganapati '10, doctoral student David Fenning, postdoctoral fellow Mariana Bertoni, and research specialist Alexandria Fecych, all in MIT's Department of Mechanical Engineering, and postdoctoral researcher Chito Kendrick and Professor Joan Redwing of Pennsylvania State University. The work was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Chesonis Family Foundation and the National Science Foundation.

####

For more information, please click here

Copyright © MIT

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

Quantum teleportation on a chip: A significant step towards ultra-high speed quantum computers April 1st, 2015

So, near and yet so far: Stable HGNs for Raman April 1st, 2015

Two-dimensional dirac materials: Structure, properties, and rarity April 1st, 2015

3-D neural structure guided with biocompatible nanofiber scaffolds and hydrogels April 1st, 2015

Possible Futures

Nanotechnology in Medical Devices Market is expected to reach $8.5 Billion by 2019 March 25th, 2015

Nanotechnology Enabled Drug Delivery to Influence Future Diagnosis and Treatments of Diseases March 21st, 2015

Nanocomposites Market Growth, Industry Outlook To 2020 by Grand View Research, Inc. March 21st, 2015

Nanotechnology Drug Delivery Market in the US 2012-2016 : Latest Report Available by Radiant Insights, Inc March 16th, 2015

Academic/Education

SUNY Poly CNSE and Title Sponsor SEFCU Name Capital Region Teams Advancing to the Final Round of the 2015 New York Business Plan Competition March 30th, 2015

LAMDAMAP 2015 hosted by the University March 26th, 2015

SUNY Poly & M+W Make Major Announcement: Major Expansion To Include M+W Owned Gehrlicher Solar America Corporation That Will Create up to 400 Jobs to Develop Solar Power Plants at SUNY Poly Sites Across New York State March 26th, 2015

SUNY POLY CNSE to Host First Ever Northeast Semi Supply Conference (NESCO) Conference Will Connect New and Emerging Innovators in the Northeastern US and Canada with Industry Leaders and Strategic Investors to Discuss Future Growth Opportunities in NYS March 25th, 2015

Sensors

From tobacco to cyberwood March 31st, 2015

UW scientists build a nanolaser using a single atomic sheet March 24th, 2015

Iranian Researchers Present Model to Determine Dynamic Behavior of Nanostructures March 24th, 2015

Nanodevice Invented in Iran to Detect Hydrogen Sulfide in Oil, Gas Industry March 20th, 2015

Discoveries

Mind the gap: Nanoscale speed bump could regulate plasmons for high-speed data flow April 1st, 2015

Cooling massive objects to the quantum ground state April 1st, 2015

A novel way to apply drugs to dental plaque Nanoparticles release drugs to reduce tooth decay April 1st, 2015

Quantum teleportation on a chip: A significant step towards ultra-high speed quantum computers April 1st, 2015

Announcements

Quantum teleportation on a chip: A significant step towards ultra-high speed quantum computers April 1st, 2015

So, near and yet so far: Stable HGNs for Raman April 1st, 2015

Two-dimensional dirac materials: Structure, properties, and rarity April 1st, 2015

3-D neural structure guided with biocompatible nanofiber scaffolds and hydrogels April 1st, 2015

Battery Technology/Capacitors/Generators/Piezoelectrics/Thermoelectrics/Energy storage

Chemists make new silicon-based nanomaterials March 27th, 2015

New processing technology converts packing peanuts to battery components March 22nd, 2015

NC State researchers create 'nanofiber gusher': Report method of fabricating larger amounts of nanofibers in liquid March 19th, 2015

Drexel Univ. materials research could unlock potential of lithium-sulfur batteries March 17th, 2015

Research partnerships

Cooling massive objects to the quantum ground state April 1st, 2015

Rutgers, NIST physicists report technology with potential for sub-micron optical switches March 31st, 2015

Prototype 'nanoneedles' generate new blood vessels in mice: Scientists have developed tiny 'nanoneedles' that have successfully prompted parts of the body to generate new blood vessels, in a trial in mice March 31st, 2015

'Atomic chicken-wire' is key to faster DNA sequencing March 30th, 2015

Solar/Photovoltaic

Wrapping carbon nanotubes in polymers enhances their performance: Scientists at Japan's Kyushu University say polymer-wrapped carbon nanotubes hold much promise in biotechnology and energy applications March 30th, 2015

Solving molybdenum disulfide's 'thin' problem: Research team increases material's light emission by twelve times March 29th, 2015

LAMDAMAP 2015 hosted by the University March 26th, 2015

SUNY Poly & M+W Make Major Announcement: Major Expansion To Include M+W Owned Gehrlicher Solar America Corporation That Will Create up to 400 Jobs to Develop Solar Power Plants at SUNY Poly Sites Across New York State March 26th, 2015

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 1999-2015 7th Wave, Inc. All Rights Reserved PRIVACY POLICY :: CONTACT US :: STATS :: SITE MAP :: ADVERTISE