German-French research initiative: physicists from the University of Jena and partners are developing and testing innovative materials for possible use as high-efficiency solar cells. Their research project, ‘Quest for Energy’, is being funded until 2022 with around one million euros from the German Academic Exchange Service.
It is crucial that we prevent the Earth from warming by more than two degrees Celsius compared with the pre-industrial era. This is a key aim of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. To achieve this goal, greenhouse gas emissions have to be drastically reduced. And for this to happen, we need a global energy revolution, with fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal being largely replaced by renewable energy sources.
So far, so obvious. However, it is well known that difficulties are being experienced in reaching these climate goals, and Dr Michael Zürch is certain that this is not just due a lack of political will. “It would definitely be possible to accelerate the energy transition if, for example, we had better solar technology,” says Zürch, a physicist who obtained his PhD at Friedrich Schiller University in Jena and has been doing research at the renowned University of California at Berkeley since 2015.
He points out that the silicon-based solar modules currently in use have an efficiency of at most 20 per cent. In other words: with current modules, more than three-quarters of the solar energy cannot be used. “We need alternatives to silicon that enable a more efficient conversion of solar energy into electricity,” adds Zürch.
Over the next four years, Zürch will be focusing intensively on these alternatives. With colleagues at the Chair of Quantum Electronics of the University of Jena, as well as French and US partners, he is launching his ‘Quest for Energy’ research project. The German Academic Exchange Service is funding the project until 2022 with around one million euros, as part of the German-French research initiative ‘Make our planet great again’.
Two-dimensional semiconductor materials to replace silicon
A promising class of materials that could supersede silicon in solar modules is that of semiconductor nanomaterials, as Prof Christian Spielmann explains. “These two-dimensional layers, which are just a few atoms thick, possess quite extraordinary optical and electronic properties, which make them ideally suited as semiconductors,” adds Spielmann, in whose team Zürch’s project is now based. The best-known example of such 2D nanomaterials is graphene. However, the physicists in Jena want to explore a new class of these materials that has hardly been studied to date: transition metal dichalcogenides.
“These are composite materials, the properties of which vary depending on their composition and which could therefore be tailored for use in a variety of applications,” Zürch explains. However, little is known so far about the fundamental processes in these materials when they interact with light. Due to their special nano-properties, the physical processes in these materials are especially fast. The physicists now want to investigate these properties in detail, to assess their suitability as a solar material.
“Our specific aim is to observe the charge carriers – i.e. the electrons – in the material when they are illuminated with light.” This will be done with the help of a high-performance ultrashort pulse laser, which records the extremely rapid movements of the electrons in snapshots lasting only a few hundred attoseconds. An attosecond is one quintillionth of a second – the brief moment it takes for light particles to travel the length of a water molecule.
The work of the Jena physicists will initially be “purely basic research”, notes Zürch. “However, in the long term this might enable us to smooth the way towards a targeted application of such composite materials in solar technology and actually move the energy transition forward.”
Dr Michael Zürch
Institute of Optics and Quantum Electronics of Friedrich Schiller University, Jena
Max-Wien-Platz 1, 07743 Jena, Germany
Tel.: +49 (0)3641 / 947213
Dr. Ute Schönfelder | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Physics: Not everything is where it seems to be
15.10.2018 | Universität Innsbruck
Disrupting crystalline order to restore superfluidity
12.10.2018 | Universität Hamburg
Augsburg chemists present a new technology for compressing, storing and transporting highly volatile gases in porous frameworks/New prospects for gas-powered vehicles
Storage of highly volatile gases has always been a major technological challenge, not least for use in the automotive sector, for, for example, methane or...
When we put water in a freezer, water molecules crystallize and form ice. This change from one phase of matter to another is called a phase transition. While this transition, and countless others that occur in nature, typically takes place at the same fixed conditions, such as the freezing point, one can ask how it can be influenced in a controlled way.
We are all familiar with such control of the freezing transition, as it is an essential ingredient in the art of making a sorbet or a slushy. To make a cold...
Thin organic layers provide machines and equipment with new functions. They enable, for example, tiny energy recuperators. In future, these will be installed...
Das Zusammenspiel aus Struktur und Dynamik bestimmt die Funktion von Proteinen, den molekularen Werkzeugen der Zelle. Durch Fortschritte in der...
New measurement method allows researchers to precisely follow the movement of individual molecules over long periods of time
The function of proteins – the molecular tools of the cell – is governed by the interplay of their structure and dynamics. Advances in electron microscopy have...
02.10.2018 | Event News
01.10.2018 | Event News
21.09.2018 | Event News
15.10.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
15.10.2018 | Life Sciences
15.10.2018 | Life Sciences