Nanotechnology Now

Our NanoNews Digest Sponsors

Heifer International

Wikipedia Affiliate Button

Home > Press > Atomic switcheroo explains origins of thin-film solar cell mystery

Cross-sectional electron beam-induced current maps show the difference in cadmium telluride solar cells before (pictured above) and after (below) cadmium chloride treatment. The increased brightness after treatment indicates higher current collection at the grain boundaries.
Cross-sectional electron beam-induced current maps show the difference in cadmium telluride solar cells before (pictured above) and after (below) cadmium chloride treatment. The increased brightness after treatment indicates higher current collection at the grain boundaries.

Abstract:
Treating cadmium-telluride (CdTe) solar cell materials with cadmium-chloride improves their efficiency, but researchers have not fully understood why. Now, an atomic-scale examination of the thin-film solar cells led by the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory has answered this decades-long debate about the materials' photovoltaic efficiency increase after treatment.

Atomic switcheroo explains origins of thin-film solar cell mystery

Oak Ridge, TN | Posted on April 23rd, 2014

A research team from ORNL, the University of Toledo and DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory used electron microscopy and computational simulations to explore the physical origins of the unexplained treatment process. The results are published in Physical Review Letters (PRL).

Thin-film CdTe solar cells are considered a potential rival to silicon-based photovoltaic systems because of their theoretically low cost per power output and ease of fabrication. Their comparatively low historical efficiency in converting sunlight into energy, however, has limited the technology's widespread use, especially for home systems.

Research in the 1980s showed that treating CdTe thin films with cadmium-chloride significantly raises the cell's efficiency, but scientists have been unable to determine the underlying causes. ORNL's Chen Li, first author on the PRL study, explains that the answer lay in investigating the material at an atomic level.

"We knew that chlorine was responsible for this magical effect, but we needed to find out where it went in the material's structure," Li said. "Only by understanding the structure can we understand what's wrong in this solar cell -- why the efficiency is not high enough, and how can we push it further."

By comparing the solar cells before and after chlorine treatment, the researchers realized that atom-scale grain boundaries were implicated in the enhanced performance. Grain boundaries are tiny defects that that normally act as roadblocks to efficiency, because they inhibit carrier collection which greatly reduces the solar cell power.

Using state of the art electron microscopy techniques to study the thin films' structure and chemical composition after treatment, the researchers found that chlorine atoms replaced tellurium atoms within the grain boundaries. This atomic substitution creates local electric fields at the grain boundaries that boost the material's photovoltaic performance instead of damaging it.

The research team's finding, in addition to providing a long-awaited explanation, could be used to guide engineering of higher-efficiency CdTe solar cells. Controlling the grain boundary structure, says Li, is a new direction that could help raise the cell efficiencies closer to the theoretical maximum of 32 percent light-to-energy conversion. Currently, the record CdTe cell efficiency is only 20.4 percent.

"We think that if all the grain boundaries in a thin film material could be aligned in same direction, it could improve cell efficiency even further," Li said.

The team's research appears as "Grain-Boundary-Enhanced Carrier Collection in CdTe Solar Cells." Coauthors are ORNL's Chen Li, Jonathan Poplawsky, Mark Oxley and Andrew Lupini; University of Toledo's Yelong Wu, Naba Paudel, Wanjian Yin and Yanfa Yan; University of Tennessee's Stephen Pennycook; University of Manchester's Sarah Haigh; University of Oxford's Timothy Pennycook; and NREL's Mowafak Al-Jassim. Li and Oxley hold joint appointments at Vanderbilt University.

The research was supported by the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy through the SunShot Initiative and the Office of Basic Energy Sciences. The work was sponsored in part by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and through a user project supported by ORNL's Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences (CNMS). This research used resources of the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center. Yan acknowledges support from the Ohio Research Scholar Program.

CNMS is one of the five DOE Nanoscale Science Research Centers, NSRCs, supported by the DOE Office of Science, as premier national user facilities for interdisciplinary research at the nanoscale. Together the NSRCs comprise a suite of complementary facilities that provide researchers with state-of-the-art capabilities to fabricate, process, characterize and model nanoscale materials, and constitute the largest infrastructure investment of the National Nanotechnology Initiative. The NSRCs are located at DOE's Argonne, Brookhaven, Lawrence Berkeley, Oak Ridge and Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories. For more information about the DOE NSRCs, please visit http://science.energy.gov/bes/suf/user-facilities/nanoscale-science-research-centers/.

####

About DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory
ORNL is managed by UT-Battelle for the Department of Energy's Office of Science.

DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

For more information, please click here

Contacts:
Morgan McCorkle

865-574-7308

Copyright © DOE/Oak Ridge 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

Atomic imperfections move quantum communication network closer to reality June 25th, 2017

Research accelerates quest for quicker, longer-lasting electronics: UC Riverside-led research makes topological insulators magnetic well above room temperatures June 25th, 2017

U.S. Air Force Research Lab Taps IBM to Build Brain-Inspired AI Supercomputing System: Equal to 64 million neurons, new neurosynaptic supercomputing system will power complex AI tasks at unprecedented speed and energy efficiency June 23rd, 2017

Rice U. chemists create 3-D printed graphene foam June 22nd, 2017

Laboratories

Alloying materials of different structures offers new tool for controlling properties June 19th, 2017

Development of low-dimensional nanomaterials could revolutionize future technologies June 15th, 2017

X-ray Study Reveals Way to Control Molecular Vibrations that Transmit Heat: Findings open new pathway for "tuning" materials to ease or insulate against the flow of heat, sound, and other forms of energy June 7th, 2017

Scientists Design Molecular System for Artificial Photosynthesis: System is designed to mimic key functions of the photosynthetic center in green plants to convert solar energy into chemical energy stored by hydrogen fuel June 2nd, 2017

Thin films

New prospects for universal memory -- high speed of RAM and the capacity of flash: Thin films created at MIPT could be the basis for future development of ReRAM June 17th, 2017

Govt.-Legislation/Regulation/Funding/Policy

Atomic imperfections move quantum communication network closer to reality June 25th, 2017

Research accelerates quest for quicker, longer-lasting electronics: UC Riverside-led research makes topological insulators magnetic well above room temperatures June 25th, 2017

U.S. Air Force Research Lab Taps IBM to Build Brain-Inspired AI Supercomputing System: Equal to 64 million neurons, new neurosynaptic supercomputing system will power complex AI tasks at unprecedented speed and energy efficiency June 23rd, 2017

Rice U. chemists create 3-D printed graphene foam June 22nd, 2017

Discoveries

Atomic imperfections move quantum communication network closer to reality June 25th, 2017

Research accelerates quest for quicker, longer-lasting electronics: UC Riverside-led research makes topological insulators magnetic well above room temperatures June 25th, 2017

Rice U. chemists create 3-D printed graphene foam June 22nd, 2017

Enhanced photocatalytic activity by Cu2O nanoparticles integrated H2Ti3O7 nanotubes June 21st, 2017

Announcements

Atomic imperfections move quantum communication network closer to reality June 25th, 2017

Research accelerates quest for quicker, longer-lasting electronics: UC Riverside-led research makes topological insulators magnetic well above room temperatures June 25th, 2017

U.S. Air Force Research Lab Taps IBM to Build Brain-Inspired AI Supercomputing System: Equal to 64 million neurons, new neurosynaptic supercomputing system will power complex AI tasks at unprecedented speed and energy efficiency June 23rd, 2017

Rice U. chemists create 3-D printed graphene foam June 22nd, 2017

Energy

Tiny bubbles provide tremendous propulsion in new microparticles research-Ben-Gurion U. June 21st, 2017

Enhanced photocatalytic activity by Cu2O nanoparticles integrated H2Ti3O7 nanotubes June 21st, 2017

Cambridge Nanotherm partners with Inabata for global sales and distribution June 20th, 2017

Development of low-dimensional nanomaterials could revolutionize future technologies June 15th, 2017

Solar/Photovoltaic

Tiny bubbles provide tremendous propulsion in new microparticles research-Ben-Gurion U. June 21st, 2017

Enhanced photocatalytic activity by Cu2O nanoparticles integrated H2Ti3O7 nanotubes June 21st, 2017

Development of low-dimensional nanomaterials could revolutionize future technologies June 15th, 2017

In a project funded by the Austrian Science Fund FWF, the physicist Serdar Sarıçiftçi investigates possible uses in electronics of the semiconductor properties of indigo pigment June 14th, 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