Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

The solar cell that also shines: Luminescent 'LED-type' design breaks efficiency record

20.04.2012
Research to be presented at the Conference on Lasers and Electro Optics illuminates 50-year mystery

To produce the maximum amount of energy, solar cells are designed to absorb as much light from the Sun as possible.

Now researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, have suggested – and demonstrated – a counterintuitive concept: solar cells should be designed to be more like LEDs, able to emit light as well as absorb it. The Berkeley team will present its findings at the Conference on Lasers and Electro Optics (CLEO: 2012), to be held May 6-11 in San Jose, Calif.

"What we demonstrated is that the better a solar cell is at emitting photons, the higher its voltage and the greater the efficiency it can produce," says Eli Yablonovitch, principal researcher and UC Berkeley professor of electrical engineering.

Since 1961, scientists have known that, under ideal conditions, there is a limit to the amount of electrical energy that can be harvested from sunlight hitting a typical solar cell. This absolute limit is, theoretically, about 33.5 percent. That means that at most 33.5 percent of the energy from incoming photons will be absorbed and converted into useful electrical energy.

Yet for five decades, researchers were unable to come close to achieving this efficiency: as of 2010, the highest anyone had come was just more than 26 percent. (This is for flat-plate, "single junction" solar cells, which absorb light waves above a specific frequency. "Multi-junction" cells, which have multiple layers and absorb multiple frequencies, are able to achieve higher efficiencies.)

More recently, Yablonovitch and his colleagues were trying to understand why there has been such a large gap between the theoretical limit and the limit that researchers have been able to achieve. As they worked, a "coherent picture emerged," says Owen Miller, a graduate student at UC Berkeley and a member of Yablonovitch's group. They came across a relatively simple, if perhaps counterintuitive, solution based on a mathematical connection between absorption and emission of light.

"Fundamentally, it's because there's a thermodynamic link between absorption and emission," Miller says. Designing solar cells to emit light – so that photons do not become "lost" within a cell – has the natural effect of increasing the voltage produced by the solar cell. "If you have a solar cell that is a good emitter of light, it also makes it produce a higher voltage," which in turn increases the amount of electrical energy that can be harvested from the cell for each unit of sunlight, Miller says.

The theory that luminescent emission and voltage go hand in hand is not new. But the idea had never been considered for the design of solar cells before now, Miller continues.

This past year, a Bay area-based company called Alta Devices, co-founded by Yablonovitch, used the new concept to create a prototype solar cell made of gallium arsenide (GaAs), a material often used to make solar cells in satellites. The prototype broke the record, jumping from 26 percent to 28.3 percent efficiency. The company achieved this milestone, in part, by designing the cell to allow light to escape as easily as possible from the cell – using techniques that include, for example, increasing the reflectivity of the rear mirror, which sends incoming photons back out through the front of the device.

Solar cells produce electricity when photons from the Sun hit the semiconductor material within a cell. The energy from the photons knocks electrons loose from this material, allowing the electrons to flow freely. But the process of knocking electrons free can also generate new photons, in a process called luminescence. The idea behind the novel solar cell design is that these new photons – which do not come directly from the Sun – should be allowed to escape from the cell as easily as possible.

"The first reaction is usually, why does it help [to let these photons escape]?" Miller says. "Don't you want to keep [the photons] in, where maybe they could create more electrons?" However, mathematically, allowing the new photons to escape increases the voltage that the cell is able to produce.

The work is "a good, useful way" of determining how scientists can improve the performance of solar cells, as well as of finding creative new ways to test and study solar cells, says Leo Schowalter of Crystal IS, Inc. and visiting professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, who is chairman of the CLEO committee on LEDs, photovoltaics, and energy-efficient photonics.

Yablonovitch says he hopes researchers will be able to use this technique to achieve efficiencies close to 30 percent in the coming years. And since the work applies to all types of solar cells, the findings have implications throughout the field.

The CLEO: 2012 presentation CF2J.1, "The Opto-Electronics which Broke the Efficiency Record in Solar Cells," by Eli Yablonovitch and Owen D. Miller, is at 10:30 a.m. Friday May 11 in the San Jose Convention Center.

EDITOR'S NOTE: High-resolution images are available to members of the media upon request. Contact Angela Stark, astark@osa.org.

Press Registration

A Press Room for credentialed press and analysts will be located on-site at CLEO: 2012 in the San Jose Convention Center, May 6 – May 11. Media interested in attending the conference should register on the CLEO website or contact Angela Stark at 202.416.1443, astark@osa.org.

About CLEO

With a distinguished history as the industry's leading event on laser science, the Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO) and the Quantum Electronics Laser Science Conference (QELS) is where laser technology was first introduced. CLEO: 2012 will unite the field of lasers and electro-optics by bringing together all aspects of laser technology, with content stemming from basic research to industry application. Sponsored by the American Physical Society's (APS) Laser Science Division, the Institute of Electronic Engineers (IEEE) Photonics Society and the Optical Society (OSA), CLEO: 2012 provides the full range of critical developments in the field, showcasing the most significant milestones from laboratory to marketplace. With an unparalleled breadth and depth of coverage, CLEO: 2012 connects all of the critical vertical markets in lasers and electro-optics. For more information, visit the conference's website at www.cleoconference.org.

Angela Stark | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.osa.org

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht The role of Sodium for the Enhancement of Solar Cells
17.07.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Eisenforschung GmbH

nachricht Behavior-influencing policies are critical for mass market success of low carbon vehicles
17.07.2018 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

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: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

Im Focus: Chemical reactions in the light of ultrashort X-ray pulses from free-electron lasers

Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.

Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Microscopic trampoline may help create networks of quantum computers

17.07.2018 | Information Technology

In borophene, boundaries are no barrier

17.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

The role of Sodium for the Enhancement of Solar Cells

17.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>