Solar Cell Efficiency Raised Potentially By Nearly Half

There’s a cottage industry in solar research involving the manipulation of quantum dots. Solar cells using these tiny particles of semiconductors are much less expensive to produce than traditional ones, because they can be made using simple chemical reactions. And scientists for a number of years now have been drawn to their ability to harvest invisible, infrared light in addition to visible light.

Alas, for the most part nobody’s been able to fully exploit the possibilities these nanomaterials offer—until, perhaps, now. The potential breakthrough comes from a team made up of scientists from the University at Buffalo, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory. The university reports the researchers found that by “employing selective doping so that quantum dots within the solar cell have a significant built-in charge,” they could increase the efficiency of solar cells up to 45 percent.

university at buffalo quantum dot solar

image via Shutterstock

Howzit work? Like this: Quantum dots have a tendency to create what the researchers call “a channel of recombination for electrons.” That is, they grab moving electrons and keep them from contributing to electric current. But by building in a charge, the quantum dots repel electrons, basically giving them no choice but to join in the electricity-generating fun.

This effect sounds vaguely similar to earlier work we reported on at Stanford, where a team of researchers coated a titanium dioxide semiconductor in their quantum dot solar cell with a very thin single layer of organic molecules. They found that just that single layer, less than a nanometer thick, was enough to triple the efficiency of the solar cells.

image via University at Buffalo

The Buffalo researchers have  invested significant amounts of time in developing the quantum dots with a built-in-charge, dubbed “Q-BICs,” the school said. And they filed provisional patent applications through the school’s Office of Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach to protect their technology. To further enhance the technology and bring it to the market, they have also founded a company, OPtoElectronic Nanodevices LLC. (OPEN LLC.), which is seeking funding from private investors and federal programs.

“Clean technology will really benefit the region, the state, the country,” electrical engineer and team member Vladimir Mitin (pictured above) said in a statement. “With high-efficiency solar cells, consumers can save money and providers can have a smaller solar field that produces more energy.”

In addition to Mitin, the team members included Andrei Sergeev and Nizami Vagidov from the University at Buffalo; Kitt Reinhardt of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research; and John Little and advanced nanofabrication expert Kimberly Sablon of the U.S. Army Research Laboratory.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

1 Comment

  • Reply February 5, 2012

    yann kervennic

    Very shallowu00a0descrption and missing tehnical informations. It could be any kind of advertisment from a scientific team that seeks funding.nnEfficiency 45% up, but what is the final number ?nWhat kind of quantum dots are used, why are they so cheap ? Can it be scaled up ?nHow can we trust some scientist who immediately claim a patent and try to raise funds ? nRaising fund is about marketing a technology, so let’s see the final product and forget about all these intemediate claims.nWe have seen that before.nnu00a0Besides the problem with PV is not about their efficiency, which is already quite high. It is to make theiru00a0fabricationu00a0simple enoughu00a0to be massively replicated with little energy and no toxic wastes implied.nAnd above all, get rid off lead acid battery for storage, which will be an environemental nightmare if this tech is spreading.nThen connecting it to the grid is fine but it implies 50 % loss on an extrau00a0large grid like USu00a0and the use of support energies that are dirtyu00a0sources (mainly gaz).

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