Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Nano-Sandwich Technique Slims Down Solar Cells, Improves Efficiency

Researchers from North Carolina State University have found a way to create much slimmer thin-film solar cells without sacrificing the cells’ ability to absorb solar energy. Making the cells thinner should significantly decrease manufacturing costs for the technology.

“We were able to create solar cells using a ‘nanoscale sandwich’ design with an ultra-thin ‘active’ layer,” says Dr. Linyou Cao, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the research. “For example, we created a solar cell with an active layer of amorphous silicon that is only 70 nanometers (nm) thick.

This is a significant improvement, because typical thin-film solar cells currently on the market that also use amorphous silicon have active layers between 300 and 500 nm thick.” The “active” layer in thin-film solar cells is the layer of material that actually absorbs solar energy for conversion into electricity or chemical fuel.

“The technique we’ve developed is very important because it can be generally applied to many other solar cell materials, such as cadmium telluride, copper indium gallium selenide, and organic materials,” Cao adds.

The new technique relies largely on conventional manufacturing processes, but results in a very different finished product. The first step is to create a pattern on the substrate using standard lithography techniques. The pattern outlines structures made of transparent, dielectric material measuring between 200 and 300 nm. The researchers then coat the substrate and the nanostructures with an extremely thin layer of active material, such as amorphous silicon. This active layer is then coated with another layer of dielectric material.

Using dielectric nanostructures beneath the active layer creates a thin film with elevated surfaces evenly spaced all along the film – like crenellations at the top of a medieval castle.

“One key aspect of this technique is the design of the ‘nanoscale sandwich,’ with the active materials in the middle of two dielectric layers. The nanostructures act as very efficient optical antennas,” Cao says, “focusing the solar energy into the active material. This focusing means we can use a thinner active layer without sacrificing performance. In the conventional thin-film design, using a thinner active layer would impair the solar cell’s efficiency.”

The paper, “Dielectric Core-shell Optical Antennas for Strong Solar Absorption Enhancement,” is published online in Nano Letters. Lead author of the paper is Yiling Yu, a Ph.D. student at NC State. Co-authors include Drs. Vivian Ferry and Paul Alivisatos of the University of California, Berkeley. The research was supported, in part, by the U.S. Department of Energy.


Note to Editors: The study abstract follows.

“Dielectric Core-shell Optical Antennas for Strong Solar Absorption Enhancement”

Authors: Yiling Yu and Linyou Cao, North Carolina State University; Vivian E. Ferry and A. Paul Alivisatos, U.C. Berkeley

Published: Online, Nano Letters

Abstract: We demonstrate a new light trapping technique of dielectric core-shell optical antennas to strongly enhance solar absorption. This approach can allow the thickness of active materials in solar cells lowered by almost one order of magnitude without scarifying solar absorption capability. For example, it can enable a 70 nm thick a-Si:H thin film to absorb 90% of incident solar radiation above the bandgap, which would otherwise require a thickness of 400 nm in typical ARC-coated thin films. This strong enhancement arises from a controlled optical antenna effect in patterned core-shell nanostructures that consist of absorbing semiconductors and non- absorbing dielectric materials. This core-shell optical antenna benefits from a multiplication of enhancements contributed from leaky mode resonances (LMRs) in the semiconductor part and anti-reflection effects in the dielectric part. We investigate the fundamental mechanism for this enhancement multiplication, and demonstrate that the size ratio of the semiconductor and the dielectric parts in the core-shell structure is key for optimizing the enhancement. By enabling strong solar absorption enhancement, this approach holds promise for cost reduction and efficiency improvement of solar conversion devices, including solar cells and solar to fuel systems. It can generally apply to a wide range of inorganic and organic active materials. This dielectric core-shell antenna can also find applications in other photonic devices such as photodetectors, sensors and solid-state lighting.

Matt Shipman | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht Solid progress in carbon capture
27.10.2016 | King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST)

nachricht Greater Range and Longer Lifetime
26.10.2016 | Technologie Lizenz-Büro (TLB) der Baden-Württembergischen Hochschulen GmbH

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: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

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...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

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...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

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...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

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...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

How nanoscience will improve our health and lives in the coming years

27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA

27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>