David Kirkpatrick

November 4, 2010

Transparent solar panels?

A very real possibility. This sounds like very promising technology.

The release:

Transparent Conductive Material Could Lead to Power-Generating Windows

Combines elements for light harvesting and electric charge transport over large, transparent areas

November 3, 2010

conjugated polymer honeycombClick on the image to download a high-resolution version.Top: Scanning electron microscopy image and zoom of conjugated polymer (PPV) honeycomb. Bottom (left-to-right): Confocal fluorescence lifetime images of conjugated honeycomb, of polymer/fullerene honeycomb double layer and of polymer/fullerene honeycomb blend. Efficient charge transfer within the whole framework is observed in the case of polymer/fullerene honeycomb blend as a dramatic reduction in the fluorescence lifetime.

UPTON, NY — Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory have fabricated transparent thin films capable of absorbing light and generating electric charge over a relatively large area. The material, described in the journal Chemistry of Materials, could be used to develop transparent solar panels or even windows that absorb solar energy to generate electricity.

The material consists of a semiconducting polymer doped with carbon-rich fullerenes. Under carefully controlled conditions, the material self-assembles to form a reproducible pattern of micron-size hexagon-shaped cells over a relatively large area (up to several millimeters).

“Though such honeycomb-patterned thin films have previously been made using conventional polymers like polystyrene, this is the first report of such a material that blends semiconductors and fullerenes to absorb light and efficiently generate charge and charge separation,” said lead scientist Mircea Cotlet, a physical chemist at Brookhaven’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN).

Furthermore, the material remains largely transparent because the polymer chains pack densely only at the edges of the hexagons, while remaining loosely packed and spread very thin across the centers. “The densely packed edges strongly absorb light and may also facilitate conducting electricity,” Cotlet explained, “while the centers do not absorb much light and are relatively transparent.”

Mircea CotletClick on the image to download a high-resolution version.Mircea Cotlet, Ranjith Krishna Pai, and Zhihua Xu (seated at the microscope).

“Combining these traits and achieving large-scale patterning could enable a wide range of practical applications, such as energy-generating solar windows, transparent solar panels, and new kinds of optical displays,” said co-author Zhihua Xu, a materials scientist at the CFN.

“Imagine a house with windows made of this kind of material, which, combined with a solar roof, would cut its electricity costs significantly. This is pretty exciting,” Cotlet said.

The scientists fabricated the honeycomb thin films by creating a flow of micrometer-size water droplets across a thin layer of the polymer/fullerene blend solution. These water droplets self-assembled into large arrays within the polymer solution. As the solvent completely evaporates, the polymer forms a hexagonal honeycomb pattern over a large area.

“This is a cost-effective method, with potential to be scaled up from the laboratory to industrial-scale production,” Xu said.

The scientists verified the uniformity of the honeycomb structure with various scanning probe and electron microscopy techniques, and tested the optical properties and charge generation at various parts of the honeycomb structure (edges, centers, and nodes where individual cells connect) using time-resolved confocal fluorescence microscopy.

The scientists also found that the degree of polymer packing was determined by the rate of solvent evaporation, which in turn determines the rate of charge transport through the material.

“The slower the solvent evaporates, the more tightly packed the polymer, and the better the charge transport,” Cotlet said.

“Our work provides a deeper understanding of the optical properties of the honeycomb structure. The next step will be to use these honeycomb thin films to fabricate transparent and flexible organic solar cells and other devices,” he said.

The research was supported at Los Alamos by the DOE Office of Science. The work was also carried out in part at the CFN and the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies Gateway to Los Alamos facility. The Brookhaven team included Mircea Cotlet, Zhihua Xu, and Ranjith Krishna Pai. Collaborators from Los Alamos include Hsing-Lin Wang and Hsinhan Tsai, who are both users of the CFN facilities at Brookhaven, Andrew Dattelbaum from the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies Gateway to Los Alamos facility, and project leader Andrew Shreve of the Materials Physics and Applications Division.

The Center for Functional Nanomaterials at Brookhaven National Laboratory and the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies Gateway to Los Alamos facility are two of the five DOE Nanoscale Science Research Centers (NSRCs), premier national user facilities for interdisciplinary research at the nanoscale. Together the NSRCs comprise a suite of complementary facilities that provide researchers with state-of-the-art capabilities to fabricate, process, characterize and model nanoscale materials, and constitute the largest infrastructure investment of the National Nanotechnology Initiative. The NSRCs are located at DOE’s Argonne, Brookhaven, Lawrence Berkeley, Oak Ridge and Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories.

 

April 8, 2010

Direct chemical vapor deposition used to create graphene

This development from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is a major breakthrough toward commercializing graphene. The link goes to a news release on this development, but it also serves as a very nice quick-hit primer on graphene as a material.

The release:

Graphene Films Clear Major Fabrication Hurdle

APRIL 08, 2010

Lynn Yarris

Graphene, the two-dimensional crystalline form of carbon, is a potential superstar for the electronics industry. With freakishly mobile electrons that can blaze through the material at nearly the speed of light – 100 times faster than electrons can move through silicon – graphene could be used to make superfast transistors or computer memory chips. Graphene’s unique “chicken wire” atomic structure exhibits incredible flexibility and mechanical strength, as well as unusual optical properties that could open a number of promising doors in both the electronics and the photonics industries. However, among the hurdles preventing graphite from joining the pantheon of star high-tech materials, perhaps none looms larger than just learning to make the stuff in high quality and usable quantities.

“Before we can fully utilize the superior electronic properties of graphene in devices, we must first develop a method of forming uniform single-layer graphene films on nonconducting substrates on a large scale,” says Yuegang Zhang, a materials scientist with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). Current fabrication methods based on mechanical cleavage or ultrahigh vacuum annealing, he says, are ill-suited for commercial-scale production. Graphene films made via solution-based deposition and chemical reduction have suffered from poor or uneven quality.

Zhang and colleagues at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) center for nanoscience, have taken a significant step at clearing this major hurdle. They have successfully used direct chemical vapor deposition (CVD) to synthesize single-layer films of graphene on a dielectric substrate. Zhang and his colleagues made their graphene films by catalytically decomposing hydrocarbon precursors over thin films of copper that had been pre-deposited on the dielectric substrate. The copper films subsequently dewetted (separated into puddles or droplets) and were evaporated. The final product was a single-layer graphene film on a bare dielectric.

“This is exciting news for electronic applications because chemical vapor deposition is a technique already widely used in the semiconductor industry,” Zhang says.

“Also, we can learn more about the growth of graphene on metal catalyst surfaces by observing the evolution of the films after the evaporation of the copper. This should lay an important foundation for further control of the process and enable us to tailor the properties of these films or produce desired morphologies, such as graphene nanoribbons.”

Zhang and his colleagues have reported their findings in the journal Nano Letters in a paper titled, “Direct Chemical Vapor Deposition of Graphene on Dielectric Surfaces.” Other co-authors of this paper were Ariel Ismach, Clara Druzgalski, Samuel Penwell, Maxwell Zheng, Ali Javey and Jeffrey Bokor, all with Berkeley Lab.

In their study, Zhang and his colleagues used electron-beam evaporation to deposit copper films ranging in thickness from 100 to 450 nanometers. Copper was chosen because as a low carbon solubility metal catalyst it was expected to allow better control over the number of graphene layers produced. Several different dielectric substrates were evaluated including single-crystal quartz, sapphire, fused silica and silicon oxide wafers. CVD of the graphene was carried out at 1,000 degrees Celsius in durations that ranged from 15 minutes up to seven hours.

“This was done to allow us to study the effect of film thickness, substrate type and CVD growth time on the graphene formation,” Zhang says.

A combination of scanning Raman mapping and spectroscopy, plus scanning electron and atomic force microscopy confirmed the presence of continuous single-layer graphene films coating metal-free areas of dielectric substrate measuring tens of square micrometers.

“Further improvement on the control of the dewetting and evaporation process could lead  to the direct deposition of patterned graphene for large-scale electronic device fabrication, Zhang says. “This method could also be generalized and used to deposit other two-dimensional materials, such as boron-nitride.”

Even the appearance of wrinkles in the graphene films that followed along the lines of the dewetting shape of the copper could prove to be beneficial in the long-run. Although previous studies have indicated that wrinkles in a graphene film have a negative impact on electronic properties by introducing strains that reduce electron mobility, Zhang believes the wrinkles can be turned to an advantage.

“If we can learn to control the formation of wrinkles in our films, we should be able to modulate the resulting strain and thereby tailor electronic properties,” he says.

“Further study of the wrinkle formation could also give us important new clues for the formation of graphene nanoribbons.”

This work was primarily supported by the DOE Office of Science.

The Molecular Foundry is one of the five DOE Nanoscale Science Research Centers (NSRCs), premier national user facilities for interdisciplinary research at the nanoscale.  Together the NSRCs comprise a suite of complementary facilities that provide researchers with state-of-the-art capabilities to fabricate, process, characterize and model nanoscale materials, and constitute the largest infrastructure investment of the National Nanotechnology Initiative.  The NSRCs are located at DOE’s Argonne, Brookhaven, Lawrence Berkeley, Oak Ridge and Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories.

Berkeley Lab is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory located in Berkeley, California. It conducts unclassified scientific research and is managed by the University of California. Visit our website at www.lbl.gov.

Additional Information

A copy of the Nano Letters paper “Direct Chemical Vapor Deposition of Graphene on Dielectric Surfaces” can be viewed here: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/nl9037714

For more about Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry visit http://foundry.lbl.gov/

For more about the DOE NSRCs visit http://nano.energy.gov

Left panel (a) an optical image of a CVD graphene film on a 450 nanometer copper shows the finger morphology of the metal; panel (b) is Raman 2D band map of the graphene film between the metal fingers, over the area marked by the red square in (a). (image from says Yuegang Zhang)

(a) Optical image of a CVD graphene film on a copper layer showing the finger morphology of the metal; (b) Raman 2D band map of the graphene film between the copper fingers over the area marked by the red square on left. (image from Yuegang Zhang)

To make a graphene thin film, Berkeley researchers (a) evaporated a thin layer of copper on a dielectric surface; (b) then used CVD to lay down a graphene film over the copper. (c) The copper dewets and evaporates leaving (d) a graphene film directly on a dielectric substrate.

To make a graphene thin film, Berkeley researchers (a) evaporated a thin layer of copper on a dielectric surface; (b) then used CVD to lay down a graphene film over the copper. (c) The copper dewets and evaporates leaving (d) the graphene film directly on the dielectric substrate.