There is a trade-off in harvesting this light, so that solar cells are efficient in the infrared but waste much of the energy available from the more energetic photons in the visible part of the spectrum.
Left: This shows laser set-up in the lab in Cambridge. Right: This is the Celestia sun.
Credit: Brina Walker
When a photon is absorbed it creates a single electronic excitation that is then separated into an electron and a positively charged hole, irrespective of the light energy. One way to improve efficiency is to split energy available from visible photons into two, which leads to a doubling of the current in the solar cell.
Researchers in Cambridge and Mons have investigated the process in which the initial electronic excitation can split into a pair of half-energy excitations. This can happen in certain organic molecules when the quantum mechanical effect of electron spin sets the initial spin 'singlet' state to be double the energy of the alternative spin 'triplet' arrangement.
The study, published today in the journal Nature Chemistry, shows that this process of singlet fission to pairs of triplets depends very sensitively on the interactions between molecules. By studying this process when the molecules are in solution it is possible to control when this process is switched on.
When the material is very dilute, the distance between molecules is large and singlet fission does not occur. When the solution is concentrated, collisions between molecules become more frequent. The researchers find that the fission process happens as soon as just two of these molecules are in contact, and remarkably, that singlet fission is then completely efficient—so that every photon produces two triplets.
This fundamental study provides new insights into the process of singlet fission and demonstrates that the use of singlet fission is a very promising route to improved solar cells. Chemists will be able to use the results to make new materials, say the team from Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory, who are currently working on ways to use these solutions in devices.
"We began by going back to fundamentals; looking at the solar energy challenge from a blue skies perspective," said Dr Brian Walker, a research fellow in the Cavendish Lab's Optoelectronics group, who led the study.
"Singlet fission offers a route to boosting solar cell efficiency using low-cost materials. We are only beginning to understand how this process works, and as we learn more we expect improvements in the technology to follow."
The team used a combination of laser experiments - which measure timings with extreme accuracy - with chemical methods used to study reaction mechanisms. This dual approach allowed the researchers to slow down fission and observe a key intermediate step never before seen.
"Very few other groups in the world have laser apparatus as versatile as ours in Cambridge," added Andrew Musser, a researcher who collaborated in the study. "This enabled us to get a step closer to working out exactly how singlet fission occurs."
The research was supported by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the European Community's Initial Training Network SUPERIOR, the FNRS in Belgium, the Herchel Smith Fund, and the Winton Programme for the Physics of Sustainability.
Brian Walker | EurekAlert!
Prototype device for measuring graphene-based electromagnetic radiation created
28.10.2016 | Lomonosov Moscow State University
Steering a fusion plasma toward stability
28.10.2016 | American Physical Society
Physicists from the University of Würzburg have designed a light source that emits photon pairs. Two-photon sources are particularly well suited for tap-proof data encryption. The experiment's key ingredients: a semiconductor crystal and some sticky tape.
So-called monolayers are at the heart of the research activities. These "super materials" (as the prestigious science magazine "Nature" puts it) have been...
Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.
This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...
Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion
Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
28.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering
28.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy
28.10.2016 | Life Sciences