Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Solar Cells: UQAM researcher solves two 20-year-old problems

07.04.2010
Thanks to two technologies developed by Professor Benoît Marsan and his team at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) Chemistry Department, the scientific and commercial future of solar cells could be totally transformed.

Professor Marsan has come up with solutions for two problems that, for the last twenty years, have been hampering the development of efficient and affordable solar cells. His findings have been published in two prestigious scientific journals, the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS) and Nature Chemistry.

The untapped potential of solar energy
The Earth receives more solar energy in one hour than the entire planet currently consumes in a year! Unfortunately, despite this enormous potential, solar energy is barely exploited. The electricity produced by conventional solar cells, composed of semiconductor materials like silicon, is 5 or 6 times more expensive than from traditional energy sources, such as fossil fuels or hydropower. Over the years, numerous research teams have attempted to develop a solar cell that would be both efficient in terms of energy and inexpensive to produce.
Dye-sensitized solar cells
One of the most promising solar cells was designed in the early '90s by Professor Michael Graetzel of the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland. Based on the principle of photosynthesis—the biochemical process by which plants convert light energy into carbohydrate (sugar, their food)—the Graetzel solar cell is composed of a porous layer of nanoparticles of a white pigment, titanium dioxide, covered with a molecular dye that absorbs sunlight, like the chlorophyll in green leaves. The pigment-coated titanium dioxide is immersed in an electrolyte solution, and a platinum-based catalyst completes the package.

As in a conventional electrochemical cell (such as an alkaline battery), two electrodes (the titanium dioxide anode and the platinum cathode in the Graetzel cell) are placed on either side of a liquid conductor (the electrolyte). Sunlight passes through the cathode and the electrolyte, and then withdraws electrons from the titanium dioxide anode, a semiconductor at the bottom of the cell. These electrons travel through a wire from the anode to the cathode, creating an electrical current. In this way, energy from the sun is converted into electricity.

Most of the materials used to make this cell are low-cost, easy to manufacture and flexible, allowing them to be integrated into a wide variety of objects and materials. In theory, the Graetzel solar cell has tremendous possibilities. Unfortunately, despite the excellence of the concept, this type of cell has two major problems that have prevented its large-scale commercialisation:

The electrolyte is: a) extremely corrosive, resulting in a lack of durability; b) densely coloured, preventing the efficient passage of light; and c) limits the device photovoltage to 0.7 volts.

The cathode is covered with platinum, a material that is expensive, non-transparent and rare. Despite numerous attempts, until Professor Marsan's recent contribution, no one had been able to find a satisfactory solution to these problems.

Professor Marsan's solutions
Professor Marsan and his team have been working for several years on the design of an electrochemical solar cell. His work has involved novel technologies, for which he has received numerous patents. In considering the problems of the cell developed by his Swiss colleague, Professor Marsan realized that two of the technologies developed for the electrochemical cell could also be applied to the Graetzel solar cell, specifically:
For the electrolyte, entirely new molecules have been created in the laboratory whose concentration has been increased through the contribution of Professor Livain Breau, also of the Chemistry Department. The resulting liquid or gel is transparent and non-corrosive and can increase the photovoltage, thus improving the cell's output and stability.
For the cathode, the platinum can be replaced by cobalt sulphide, which is far less expensive. It is also more efficient, more stable and easier to produce in the laboratory.

Immediately following their publication in JACS and Nature Chemistry, Professor Marsan's proposals were received enthusiastically by the scientific community. Many view his contribution as a major research breakthrough on the production of low-cost and efficient solar cells.

Links to the articles in JACS and Nature Chemistry:
http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/ja905970y
http://www.nature.com/nchem/journal/vaop/ncurrent/abs/nchem.610.html
Version française:
http://www.salledepresse.uqam.ca/communiques-de-presse-2010/147-recherche-piles-solaires.html

Information:
Professor Benoît Marsan
Department of Chemistry
Université du Québec à Montréal
Phone: 514 987-3000, ext. 7980
Email: marsan.benoit@uqam.ca
Source: Claire Bouchard, Press Relations Officer
Phone: 514 987-3000, ext. 2248
Email: bouchard.claire@uqam.ca

Claire Bouchard | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.uqam.ca

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Cancer diagnosis: no more needles?
25.05.2018 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

nachricht Less is more? Gene switch for healthy aging found
25.05.2018 | Leibniz-Institut für Alternsforschung - Fritz-Lipmann-Institut e.V. (FLI)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Powerful IT security for the car of the future – research alliance develops new approaches

The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.

Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...

Im Focus: Molecular switch will facilitate the development of pioneering electro-optical devices

A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.

The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...

Im Focus: LZH showcases laser material processing of tomorrow at the LASYS 2018

At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.

At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...

Im Focus: Self-illuminating pixels for a new display generation

There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?

At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Flow probes from the 3D printer

25.05.2018 | Machine Engineering

Less is more? Gene switch for healthy aging found

25.05.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>