A new method using nanowires could make solar panels more efficient and much more

A new method using nanowires could make solar panels more efficient and much cheaper

Integrating the product on top of a Si cell could potentially improve solar cell efficiency by up to 40% – which would mean twice the efficiency compared to today’s commercial Si solar cells. credit: Shutterstock, NTB

A research group at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) has developed a method for making ultra-high material efficient solar cells using semiconductor nanowires. If placed over a traditional silicon-based solar cell, it could double the efficiency of today’s Si solar cells at a lower cost.

“We have a new way to very effectively use gallium arsenide (GAAs) materials through nanostructuring, so we can make solar cells more efficient using only a small fraction of commonly used materials.” can make,” says Anjan Mukherjee, a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Electronic Systems. Mukherjee is the main developer of the technique.

Gallium arsenide (GaAs) is the best material for making high-efficiency solar cells because of its exceptional light absorption and electrical characteristics. It is commonly used primarily to make solar panels for use in space.

However, it is quite expensive to fabricate high quality GaAs solar cell components, which has driven the demand for technologies that can cut down on material usage.

In recent years, it has been realized that a nanowire structure can potentially increase solar cell efficiency compared to standard planar solar cells, even though less material is used.

“Our research group has discovered a new way to build an ultrahigh power-per-weight ratio solar cell using GaAs in a nanowire structure that is 10 times more efficient than any other solar cell,” says Hale Weimann , a Professor in the Department of Electronic Systems at NTNU.

The group’s research has been published in ACS PhotonicsA journal of the American Chemical Society.

Pioneering Method

GaAs solar cells are often grown on thick and expensive GaAs substrates, leaving little room for cost reduction.

“Our method uses a semiconductor nanowire array structure standing vertically on an inexpensive and industry-friendly Si platform to grow nanowires,” Weiman said.

“The most cost-effective and efficient solution is to develop a dual tandem cell, with a GaAs nanowire cell grown on a bottom Si cell, which avoids the use of an expensive GaAs substrate. The top GaAs nanowire cell is on the rise, because it is the GaAs fabrication cost that is one of the major issues currently holding the technology back,” Weiman explains.

“The small footprint of the nanowire structure provides an added advantage, as it allows higher quality of nanowires in crystals and at interfaces with silicon. This helps improve solar cell performance,” says Björn-Owe Fimland, One professor said same department.

With proper investment and industrial scale R&D projects, development of this technology can be straightforward and cost-effective.

“We grow nanowires using a method called MBE (molecular beam epitaxy), which is not a device that can produce materials in high volumes. However, producing these nanowire-based solar cells on a large scale is This is possible by using industrial-scale tools such as MOCVD (Metal Organic Vapor Deposition), “said Mukherjee.

Integrating this product on top of a Si cell could potentially improve solar cell efficiency by up to 40% – meaning twice the efficiency compared to today’s commercial Si solar cells.

suitable for space travel

The researchers say their approach can be adapted so that nanowires can be grown on a variety of substrates, which could open the door to many other applications.

“We are exploring growing this type of light-weight nanowire structure on atomically thin two-dimensional substrates such as graphene. This could open up huge opportunities for the production of light-weight and flexible solar cells that can be used to self-powered.” This can be done in drones, micro-satellites and other space applications,” Mukherjee said.


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more information:
Anjan Mukherjee et al, GaAs/AlGaAs Nanowire Array Solar Cell Developed on Si with Ultrahigh Power-Per-Weight Ratio, ACS Photonics (2021). DOI: 10.1021/acsphotonics.1c00527

Provided by Norwegian University of Science and Technology

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