Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Self-cleaning, low-reflectivity treatment boosts efficiency for photovoltaic cells


Using two different types of chemical etching to create features at both the micron and nanometer size scales, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a surface treatment that boosts the light absorption of silicon photovoltaic cells in two complementary ways.

The surface treatment increases absorption both by trapping light in three-dimensional structures and by making the surfaces self-cleaning – allowing rain or dew to wash away the dust and dirt that can accumulate on photovoltaic arrays. Because of its ability to make water bead up and roll off, the surface is classified as superhydrophobic.

"The more sunlight that goes into the photovoltaic cells and the less that reflects back, the higher the efficiency can be," said C.P. Wong, Regents' professor in Georgia Tech's School of Materials Science and Engineering. "Our simulations show that we can potentially increase the final efficiency of the cells by as much as two percent with this surface structure."

Supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Electric Energy Testing Research and Applications Center (NEETRAC) at Georgia Tech, the research will be described March 24th at the Spring 2009 National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in Salt Lake City.

The silicon etching treatment mimics the superhydrophobic surface of the lotus leaf, which uses surface roughness at two different size scales to create high contact angles that encourage water from rain or condensation to bead up and run off. As the water runs off, it carries with it any surface dust or dirt – which also doesn't adhere because of the unique surface properties.

In the silicon surface treatment, the two-tier roughness – created with both micron- and nano-scale structures – works in the same way as the lotus leaf, minimizing contact between the water or dust and the surface, Wong noted.

"When a water droplet reaches the surface, it sits on top of this two-tier roughness and only about three percent of it is in contact with the silicon," he explained.

Preparation of the superhydrophobic surface begins with use of a potassium hydroxide (KOH) solution to etch the silicon surface. The solution preferentially removes silicon along crystalline planes, creating micron-scale pyramid structures in the surface.

An e-beam process is then used to apply nanometer-scale gold particles to the pyramid structures. Using a solution of hydrogen fluoride (HF) and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), a metal-assisted etching process – with gold as the catalyst – produces the nanometer-scale features. The feature size is controlled by the diameter of the gold particles and the length of time the silicon is exposed to the etching.

Finally, the gold is removed with a potassium iodide (KI) solution and the surface coated with a fluorocarbon material, perfluorooctyl tricholosilane (PFOS).

The combination of increased light absorption from the textured surface and the self-cleaning ability both help boost absorption of sunlight hitting the silicon surface.

"A normal silicon surface reflects a lot of the light that comes in, but by doing this texturing, the reflection is reduced to less than five percent," said Dennis Hess, a professor in the Georgia Tech School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. "As much as 10 percent of the light that hits the cells is scattered because of dust and dirt of the surface. If you can keep the cells clean, in principle you can increase the efficiency. Even if you only improve this by a few percent, that could make a big difference."

Even in desert areas where constant sunlight provides ideal conditions for photovoltaic arrays, nighttime dew should provide enough moisture to keep the cells clean, Wong said.

The research team, which also included Yonghao Xiu, Shu Zhang and Yan Liu, is working with Georgia Tech's University Center of Excellence for Photovoltaics Research and Education -- headed by Professor Ajeet Rohatgi of Georgia Tech's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering -- to evaluate the surface treatment with real solar cells.

However, adoption of the superhydrophobic surface treatment will ultimately depend on its long-term robustness and cost.

"Because the structures are so small, they are fairly fragile," Hess noted. "Mechanical abrasion to the surface can destroy the superhydrophobicity. We have tried to address that here by creating a large superhydrophobic surface area so that small amounts of damage won't affect the overall surface."

Large scale cost estimates haven't yet been done, but Hess said the additional etching and vacuum deposition steps shouldn't add dramatically to the already complex manufacturing process used for fabricating silicon PV cells.

In addition to photovoltaic cells, the surface treatment could be used to create anti-bacterial coatings on medical equipment, micro-electromechanical devices that don't stick together, and improved microfluidic devices.

Technical Contacts: C.P. Wong (404-894-8391); E-mail: ( or Dennis Hess (404-894-5922); E-mail: (

John Toon | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

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...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

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

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>