Thursday, December 20, 2012

Nanostructures triple organic solar cells' efficiency

There is something slightly ridiculous about this story even though I find it very interesting.  What has happened is that a guy at Princeton has figured out a way to make PV cells more efficient by placing a mesh over them punched with holes so tiny, they are actually less than the wavelength of light.  This mesh traps light—especially light coming in at odd angles. And since any PV array that is fixed operates a lot of time with the light coming from sub-optimum angles, this should dramatically increase the cells' efficiency.

Of course, this experiment was made possible because someone figured out how to punch a hole less than a lightwave in diameter.  I am sure it is very hard to do.  And probably expensive.  And probably impossible to get reliably high quality control.  And the resulting mesh will probably be damn near impossible to clean.

But other than that—it's probably a good idea.  Keep in mind that there are plenty of places ready-made for PV installation.  We already have a supply glut of PV cells we know how to make.  And so I'm not sure increasing the efficiency of PV cells is the best use of a Mr. Chou's talents.  Problems such as transmission and storage are MUCH more critical to a solar future.

Nanostructures triple organic solar cells efficiency

December 6, 2012

Princeton researchers have found a simple and economic way to nearly triple the efficiency of organic solar cells, the cheap and flexible plastic devices that many scientists believe could be the future of solar power.

The researchers, led by electrical engineer Stephen Chou, were able to increase the efficiency 175 percent by using a nanostructured "sandwich" of metal and plastic that collects and traps light. Chou said the technology also should increase the efficiency of conventional inorganic solar collectors, such as standard silicon solar panels, although he cautioned that his team has not yet completed research with inorganic devices.

Chou said the research team used nanotechnology to overcome two primary challenges that cause solar cells to lose energy: light reflecting from the cell, and the inability to fully capture light that enters the cell.

With their new metallic sandwich, the researchers were able to address both problems. The sandwich – called a subwavelength plasmonic cavity – has an extraordinary ability to dampen reflection and trap light. The new technique allowed Chou's team to create a solar cell that only reflects about 4 percent of light and absorbs as much as 96 percent. It demonstrates 52 percent higher efficiency in converting light to electrical energy than a conventional solar cell.

That is for direct sunlight. The structure achieves even more efficiency for light that strikes the solar cell at large angles, which occurs on cloudy days or when the cell is not directly facing the sun. By capturing these angled rays, the new structure boosts efficiency by an additional 81 percent, leading to the 175 percent total increase.

The physics behind the innovation is formidably complex. But the device structure, in concept, is fairly simple.

The top layer, known as the window layer, of the new solar cell uses an incredibly fine metal mesh: the metal is 30 nanometers thick, and each hole is 175 nanometers in diameter and 25 nanometers apart. This mesh replaces the conventional window layer typically made of a material called indium-tin-oxide (ITO).t.

The mesh window layer is placed very close to the bottom layer of the sandwich, the same metal film used in conventional solar cells. In between the two metal sheets is a thin strip of semiconducting material used in solar panels. It can be any type – silicon, plastic or gallium arsenide – although Chou's team used an 85-nanometer-thick plastic.

The solar cell's features – the spacing of the mesh, the thickness of the sandwich, the diameter of the holes – are all smaller than the wavelength of the light being collected. This is critical because light behaves in very unusual ways in sub-wavelength structures. Chou's team discovered that using these subwavelength structures allowed them to create a trap in which light enters, with almost no reflection, and does not leave.

Enlarge A key part of the new technology is a thin gold mesh, which serves as a "window" layer for the solar cell.

"It is like a black hole for light," Chou said. "It traps it."

The team calls the system a "plasmonic cavity with subwavelength hole array" or PlaCSH. Photos of the surface of the PlaCSH solar cells demonstrate this light-absorbing effect: under sunlight, a standard solar power cell looks tinted in color due to light reflecting from its surface, but the PlaCSH looks deep black because of the extremely low light reflection.

The researchers expected an increase in efficiency from the technique, "but clearly the increase we found was beyond our expectations," Chou said.

Chou and graduate student Wei Ding reported their findings in the journal Optics Express, published online Nov. 28, 2012. Their work was supported in part by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation.

The researchers said the PlaCSH solar cells can be manufactured cost-effectively in wallpaper-size sheets. Chou's lab used "nanoimprint," a low-cost nanofabrication technique Chou invented 16 years ago, which embosses nanostructures over a large area, like printing a newspaper.

Beside the innovative design, the work involved optimizing the system. Getting the structure exactly right "is critical to achieving high efficiency," said Ding, a graduate student in electrical engineering.

Chou said that the development could have a number of applications depending on the type of solar collector. In this series of experiments, Chou and Ding worked with solar cells made from plastic, called organic solar cells. Plastic is cheap and malleable and the technology has great promise, but it has been limited in commercial use because of organic solar cells' low efficiency.

In addition to a direct boost to the cells' efficiency, the new nanostructured metal film also replaces the current ITO electrode that is the most expensive part of most current organic solar cells. "PlaCSH also is extremely bendable," Chou said. "The mechanical property of ITO is like glass; it is very brittle." more
Chou's paper.  Fancy name for punching a bunch of tiny holes.

Ultrathin, high-efficiency, broad-band, omni-acceptance, organic solar cells enhanced by plasmonic cavity with subwavelength hole array

Stephen Y. Chou Optics Express, Vol. 21, Issue S1, pp. A60-A76 (2013)
http://dx.doi.org/10.1364/OE.21.000A60
Three of central challenges in solar cells are high light coupling into solar cell, high light trapping and absorption in a sub-absorption-length-thick active layer, and replacement of the indium-tin-oxide (ITO) transparent electrode used in thin-film devices. Here, we report a proposal and the first experimental study and demonstration of a new ultra-thin high-efficiency organic solar cell (SC), termed “plasmonic cavity with subwavelength hole-array (PlaCSH) solar cell”, that offers a solution to all three issues with unprecedented performances. The ultrathin PlaCSH-SC is a thin plasmonic cavity that consists of a 30 nm thick front metal-mesh electrode with subwavelength hole-array (MESH) which replaces ITO, a thin (100 nm thick) back metal electrode, and in-between a polymer photovoltaic active layer (P3HT/PCBM) of 85 nm thick (1/3 average absorption-length). Experimentally, the PlaCSH-SCs have achieved (1) light coupling-efficiency/absorptance as high as 96% (average 90%), broad-band, and Omni acceptance (light coupling nearly independent of both light incident angle and polarization); (2) an external quantum efficiency of 69% for only 27% single-pass active layer absorptance; leading to (3) a 4.4% power conversion efficiency (PCE) at standard-solar-irradiation, which is 52% higher than the reference ITO-SC (identical structure and fabrication to PlaCSH-SC except MESH replaced by ITO), and also is among the highest PCE for the material system that was achievable previously only by using thick active materials and/or optimized polymer compositions and treatments. In harvesting scattered light, the Omni acceptance can increase PCE by additional 81% over ITO-SC, leading to a total 175% increase (i.e. 8% PCE). Furthermore, we found that (a) after formation of PlaCSH the light reflection and absorption by MESH are reduced by 2 to 6 fold from the values when it is alone; and (b) the sheet resistance of a 30 nm thick MESH is 2.2 ohm/sq or less–4.5 fold or more lower than the best reported value for a 100 nm thick ITO film, giving a lowest reflectance-sheet-resistance product. Finally, fabrication of PlaCSH has used nanoimprint on 4” wafer and is scalable to roll-to-roll manufacturing. The designs, fabrications, and findings are applicable to thin solar cells in other materials.
© 2012 OSA&amp. more

1 comment:

  1. Nice Post! Here are some simple ways to calculate the rate of a solar energy cells or even solar thermal system and to prescribe if a solar system is good for you. Let's commence with a home photovoltaic (PV) program.

    High Efficiency Solar Cells | Solar Energy Canada

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