Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Researchers developing more powerful solar cells

Sure, Iowa has its share of rainy, snowy and cloudy days. But look out the window.

"We have a lot of sunlight," said Vikram Dalal as sunshine lit up a late-summer morning and the south-facing windows of his office at Iowa State University's Applied Sciences Complex.

Dalal, the director of Iowa State's Microelectronics Research Center and the Thomas M. Whitney Professor in electrical and computer engineering, has spent more than three decades finding ways for that sunlight to generate more and more electricity. He thinks his latest project can boost the performance of an Iowa company's solar cells by 40 to 50 percent.

Dalal is working with PowerFilm Inc., an Ames company that manufactures thin, flexible solar panels, to improve the performance and stability of the company's solar cells. The project is partially supported by a $63,406 grant from the Grow Iowa Values Fund, a state economic development program. Dalal also has a three-year, $220,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to support a separate but similar research project.

One of the challenges facing solar cell manufacturers is the fact that most cells are manufactured with crystalline silicon, the same material that's used to make computer semiconductors. Because computer parts have so much more value than solar cells, Dalal said there's a shortage of silicon for solar cells.

There is, however, a way to manufacture solar cells using a lot less silicon. Dalal said non-crystalline silicon wafers that are about 2 micrometers thick can replace crystalline wafers that are about 300 micrometers thick. The result is thin solar cells that can absorb lots of light and can be mounted on flexible plastic and other materials. It's the kind of solar cell technology produced by PowerFilm Inc. But the thin cells produce about half the electricity as crystalline silicon. And their performance drops by about another 15 to 20 percent over time.

"That's where we come in," Dalal said.

Iowa State researchers have made discoveries in materials science and plasma chemistry that can improve hydrogen bonding to the silicon in the thin solar cells. And Dalal said that can improve the performance of the cells by about 35 percent and eliminate about 15 percent of the drop in performance.

The discoveries are expected to result in several patents, Dalal said.

They're also expected to be a potential boost to PowerFilm. Dalal said the new techniques should work with essentially the same manufacturing processes and equipment now used by PowerFilm.

Frank Jeffrey, the chief executive officer of PowerFilm, said he'd be happy to see the performance of his company's solar cells jump by even 20 percent.

"It would put us in a much stronger competitive position," Jeffrey said. "If we can increase performance and keep costs in line, that would give us a significant advantage over other people pursuing thin film solar technology right now."

But he acknowledges Dalal's project won't be an easy one.

"It is a significant challenge to get the advancement he'd like to make," Jeffrey said.

But Dalal is looking forward to facing those challenges in his laboratory.

"This is both challenging and interesting work," said Dalal, who started studying solar technology in 1972 when he decided he didn't want to develop smart bomb technology for a defense contractor. "I find it is tremendously interesting, even after 34 years. And it helps humanity instead of killing it, which allows me to sleep at night."

Vikram Dalal | 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 >>>