Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Atomic switcheroo explains origins of thin-film solar cell mystery

24.04.2014

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.


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.

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/.

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.

Morgan McCorkle | Eurek Alert!
Further information:
http://www.ornl.gov/ornl/news/news-releases/2014/atomic-switcheroo-explains-origins-of-thin-film-solar-cell-mystery--

Further reports about: Atomic CdTe Computing Energy ORNL energy nanoscale responsible tellurium

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht Engineer Improves Rechargeable Batteries with MoS2 Nano 'Sandwich'
17.04.2015 | Kansas State University

nachricht Packing Heat: New Fluid Makes Untapped Geothermal Energy Cleaner
17.04.2015 | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Advances in Molecular Electronics: Lights On – Molecule On

Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) and the University of Konstanz are working on storing and processing information on the level of single molecules to create the smallest possible components that will combine autonomously to form a circuit. As recently reported in the academic journal Advanced Science, the researchers can switch on the current flow through a single molecule for the first time with the help of light.

Dr. Artur Erbe, physicist at the HZDR, is convinced that in the future molecular electronics will open the door for novel and increasingly smaller – while also...

Im Focus: Pruning of Blood Vessels: Cells Can Fuse With Themselves

Cells of the vascular system of vertebrates can fuse with themselves. This process, which occurs when a blood vessel is no longer necessary and pruned, has now been described on the cellular level by Prof. Markus Affolter from the Biozentrum of the University of Basel. The findings of this study have been published in the journal “PLoS Biology”.

The vascular system is the supply network of the human organism and delivers oxygen and nutrients to the last corners of the body. So far, research on the...

Im Focus: Astronomers reveal supermassive black hole's intense magnetic field

Astronomers from Chalmers University of Technology have used the giant telescope Alma to reveal an extremely powerful magnetic field very close to a supermassive black hole in a distant galaxy

Astronomers from Chalmers University of Technology have used the giant telescope Alma to reveal an extremely powerful magnetic field very close to a...

Im Focus: A “pin ball machine” for atoms and photons

A team of physicists from MPQ, Caltech, and ICFO proposes the combination of nano-photonics with ultracold atoms for simulating quantum many-body systems and creating new states of matter.

Ultracold atoms in the so-called optical lattices, that are generated by crosswise superposition of laser beams, have been proven to be one of the most...

Im Focus: UV light robot to clean hospital rooms could help stop spread of 'superbugs'

Can a robot clean a hospital room just as well as a person?

According to new research out of the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, that is indeed the case. Chetan Jinadatha, M.D., M.P.H., assistant...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

HHL's Entrepreneurship Conference on FinTech

13.04.2015 | Event News

World Conference On Regenerative Medicine 2015: Registration And Abstract Submission Now Open

25.03.2015 | Event News

University presidents from all over the world meet in Hamburg

19.03.2015 | Event News

 
Latest News

High-Power Laser Spinoff Proves Versatility Is Strength

20.04.2015 | Physics and Astronomy

New “Cool Roof Time Machine” Will Accelerate Cool Roof Deployment

20.04.2015 | Architecture and Construction

STAR Heavy Flavor Tracker Detects Signs of Charm at RHIC

20.04.2015 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>