Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Photovoltaics from any semiconductor

27.07.2012
Berkeley Lab technology could open door to more widespread solar energy devices

A technology that would enable low-cost, high efficiency solar cells to be made from virtually any semiconductor material has been developed by researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)'s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California (UC) Berkeley.


The SFPV technology was tested for two top electrode architectures: (A) the top electrode is shaped into narrow fingers; (B) top electrode is uniformly ultrathin.

Credit: (Image courtesy of Berkeley Lab)

This technology opens the door to the use of plentiful, relatively inexpensive semiconductors, such as the promising metal oxides, sulfides and phosphides, that have been considered unsuitable for solar cells because it is so difficult to taylor their properties by chemical means.

"It's time we put bad materials to good use," says physicist Alex Zettl, who led this research along with colleague Feng Wang. "Our technology allows us to sidestep the difficulty in chemically tailoring many earth abundant, non-toxic semiconductors and instead tailor these materials simply by applying an electric field."

Zettl, who holds joint appointments with Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division and UC Berkeley's Physics Department where he directs the Center of Integrated Nanomechanical Systems (COINS), is the corresponding author of a paper describing this work in the journal Nano Letters. The paper is titled "Screening-Engineered Field-Effect Solar Cells." Co-authoring it were William Regan, Steven Byrnes, Will Gannett, Onur Ergen, Oscar Vazquez-Mena and Feng Wang.

Solar cells convert sunlight into electricity using semiconductor materials that exhibit the photovoltaic effect – meaning they absorb photons and release electrons that can be channeled into an electrical current. Photovoltaics are the ultimate source of clean, green and renewable energy but today's technologies utilize relatively scarce and expensive semiconductors, such as large crystals of silicon, or thin films of cadmium telluride or copper indium gallium selenide, that are tricky or expensive to fabricate into devices.

"Solar technologies today face a cost-to-efficiency trade-off that has slowed widespread implementation," Zettl says. "Our technology reduces the cost and complexity of fabricating solar cells and thereby provides what could be an important cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative that would accelerate the usage of solar energy."

This new technology is called "screening-engineered field-effect photovoltaics," or SFPV, because it utilizes the electric field effect, a well understood phenomenon by which the concentration of charge-carriers in a semiconductor is altered by the application of an electric field. With the SFPV technology, a carefully designed partially screening top electrode lets the gate electric field sufficiently penetrate the electrode and more uniformly modulate the semiconductor carrier concentration and type to induce a p-n junction. This enables the creation of high quality p-n junctions in semiconductors that are difficult if not impossible to dope by conventional chemical methods.

"Our technology requires only electrode and gate deposition, without the need for high-temperature chemical doping, ion implantation, or other expensive or damaging processes," says lead author William Regan. "The key to our success is the minimal screening of the gate field which is achieved through geometric structuring of the top electrode. This makes it possible for electrical contact to and carrier modulation of the semiconductor to be performed simultaneously."

Under the SFPV system, the architecture of the top electrode is structured so that at least one of the electrode's dimensions is confined. In one configuration, working with copper oxide, the Berkeley researchers shaped the electrode contact into narrow fingers; in another configuration, working with silicon, they made the top contact ultra-thin (single layer graphene) across the surface. With sufficiently narrow fingers, the gate field creates a low electrical resistance inversion layer between the fingers and a potential barrier beneath them. A uniformly thin top contact allows gate fields to penetrate and deplete/invert the underlying semiconductor. The results in both configurations are high quality p-n junctions.

Says co-author Feng Wang, "Our demonstrations show that a stable, electrically contacted p-n junction can be achieved with nearly any semiconductor and any electrode material through the application of a gate field provided that the electrode is appropriately geometrically structured."

The researchers also demonstrated the SFPV effect in a self-gating configuration, in which the gate was powered internally by the electrical activity of the cell itself.

"The self-gating configuration eliminates the need for an external gate power source, which will simplify the practical implementation of SFPV devices," Regan says. "Additionally, the gate can serve a dual role as an antireflection coating, a feature already common and necessary for high efficiency photovoltaics."

This research was supported in part by the DOE Office of Science and in part by the National Science Foundation.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) addresses the world's most urgent scientific challenges by advancing sustainable energy, protecting human health, creating new materials, and revealing the origin and fate of the universe. Founded in 1931, Berkeley Lab's scientific expertise has been recognized with 13 Nobel prizes. The University of California manages Berkeley Lab for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science. For more, visit www.lbl.gov.

Lynn Yarris | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.lbl.gov

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht Electrons in the fast lane
03.07.2020 | Max-Planck-Institut für Polymerforschung

nachricht Gentle wall contact – the right scenario for a fusion power plant
02.07.2020 | Max-Planck-Institut für Plasmaphysik

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: Electrons in the fast lane

Solar cells based on perovskite compounds could soon make electricity generation from sunlight even more efficient and cheaper. The laboratory efficiency of these perovskite solar cells already exceeds that of the well-known silicon solar cells. An international team led by Stefan Weber from the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) in Mainz has found microscopic structures in perovskite crystals that can guide the charge transport in the solar cell. Clever alignment of these "electron highways" could make perovskite solar cells even more powerful.

Solar cells convert sunlight into electricity. During this process, the electrons of the material inside the cell absorb the energy of the light....

Im Focus: The lightest electromagnetic shielding material in the world

Empa researchers have succeeded in applying aerogels to microelectronics: Aerogels based on cellulose nanofibers can effectively shield electromagnetic radiation over a wide frequency range – and they are unrivalled in terms of weight.

Electric motors and electronic devices generate electromagnetic fields that sometimes have to be shielded in order not to affect neighboring electronic...

Im Focus: Gentle wall contact – the right scenario for a fusion power plant

Quasi-continuous power exhaust developed as a wall-friendly method on ASDEX Upgrade

A promising operating mode for the plasma of a future power plant has been developed at the ASDEX Upgrade fusion device at Max Planck Institute for Plasma...

Im Focus: ILA Goes Digital – Automation & Production Technology for Adaptable Aircraft Production

Live event – July 1, 2020 - 11:00 to 11:45 (CET)
"Automation in Aerospace Industry @ Fraunhofer IFAM"

The Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials IFAM l Stade is presenting its forward-looking R&D portfolio for the first time at...

Im Focus: AI monitoring of laser welding processes - X-ray vision and eavesdropping ensure quality

With an X-ray experiment at the European Synchrotron ESRF in Grenoble (France), Empa researchers were able to demonstrate how well their real-time acoustic monitoring of laser weld seams works. With almost 90 percent reliability, they detected the formation of unwanted pores that impair the quality of weld seams. Thanks to a special evaluation method based on artificial intelligence (AI), the detection process is completed in just 70 milliseconds.

Laser welding is a process suitable for joining metals and thermoplastics. It has become particularly well established in highly automated production, for...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

International conference QuApps shows status quo of quantum technology

02.07.2020 | Event News

Dresden Nexus Conference 2020: Same Time, Virtual Format, Registration Opened

19.05.2020 | Event News

Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium AWK'21 will take place on June 10 and 11, 2021

07.04.2020 | Event News

 
Latest News

Moss protein corrects genetic defects of other plants

03.07.2020 | Life Sciences

Typhoon changed earthquake patterns

03.07.2020 | Earth Sciences

New candidate for raw material synthesis through gene transfer

03.07.2020 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>