David Kirkpatrick

June 17, 2010

Quantum dot research may lead to dramatic solar efficiency increase

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 11:47 pm

This seems like a week full of a lot of good solar efficiency news. As I’ve written many, many times (hit the solar link in the sidebar), solar power needs continued breakthroughs in two areas to become market-viable — costs must continue to come down and efficiency needs to continue to increase. This news out of UT Austin points toward potential very dramatic efficiency increases.

From the link:

Conventional solar cell efficiency could be increased from the current limit of 30 percent to more than 60 percent, suggests new research on semiconductor nanocrystals, or quantum dots, led by chemist Xiaoyang Zhu at The University of Texas at Austin.

Zhu and his colleagues report their results in this week’s Science.

The scientists have discovered a method to capture the higher energy sunlight that is lost as heat in conventional .

The maximum efficiency of the silicon solar cell in use today is about 31 percent. That’s because much of the energy from sunlight hitting a solar cell is too high to be turned into usable electricity. That energy, in the form of so-called “hot ,” is lost as heat.

If the higher energy sunlight, or more specifically the hot electrons, could be captured, solar-to-electric power conversion efficiency could be increased theoretically to as high as 66 percent.

If you prefer the raw feed, here’s the release the linked story is based on.

November 13, 2008

Nanotech improving lasers and solar cells

The release:

New research expected to improve laser devices and make photovoltaics more efficient

University of Chicago research

University of Chicago scientists have induced electrons in the nanocrystals of semiconductors to cool more slowly by forcing them into a smaller volume. This has the potential to improve satellite communications and the generation of solar power.

“Slowing down the cooling of these electrons—in this case, by more than 30 times—could lead to a better infrared laser source,” said Philippe Guyot-Sionnest, Professor of Chemistry and Physics at the University of Chicago. “This, in turn, could be used to increase the bandwidth of communication satellites, allowing for faster connections.”

Guyot-Sionnest is the principal investigator on the research project, which was described in a paper called “Slow Electron Cooling in Colloidal Quantum Dots,” published Nov. 7 in Science.

The slow cooling of electrons in nanocrystals could lead to better, more efficient photovoltaic devices, he added. “This is because proposals to devise ways to extract the excess heat from these electrons as they cool are more likely to be realized—and to work—due to the fact that we now understand better what is going on with these nanocrystals.”

Slower cooling of electrons in nanocrystals was first theorized in 1990, but no one has been able to observe this effect.

Slow electron cooling in nanocrystals occurs because forcing the electrons into a smaller volume leads them to oscillate between their alternate extremes within a very short period of time. (This is analogous to the way shorter strings on musical instruments produce higher pitches.) The electrons in the nanocrystals used in this experiment oscillated so fast that it became difficult for them to drag along the more sluggish vibrations of the nuclei. As a result, the energy stayed with the electrons for a longer period of time.

The slower cooling effect was difficult to induce and observe because several different mechanisms for energy loss interfered with the process. By eliminating these other mechanisms, the researchers were able to induce and observe slower electron cooling in nanocrystals.

 

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Anshu Pandey, a graduate student in Chemistry at the University of Chicago, did the experiments described in the Science paper, which he co-authored.