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Novel nanoparticles may lead to cheaper, more flexible PV cells

Posted: 12 Jun 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:University of Toronto  infrared LED  nanoparticle  colloidal quantum dot  solar cell 

A team of researchers at the University of Toronto's Edward S. Rogers Sr. department of electrical and computer engineering has designed and tested a class of solar-sensitive nanoparticle that exceeds the existing technology in terms of features. According to them, this new form of solid, stable light-sensitive nanoparticles, called colloidal quantum dots, could lead to cheaper and more flexible solar cells, as well as better gas sensors, infrared lasers, infrared light emitting diodes and more.

Zhijun Ning, Oleksandr Voznyy

Co-authors Zhijun Ning (left) and Oleksandr Voznyy (right) examine a film coated with colloidal quantum dots (credit: Roberta Baker).

Collecting sunlight using these tiny colloidal quantum dots depends on two types of semiconductors: n-type, which are rich in electrons; and p-type, which are poor in electrons. The problem? When exposed to the air, n-type materials bind to oxygen atoms, give up their electrons, and turn into p-type. Post-doctoral researcher Zhijun Ning and Professor Ted Sargent modelled and demonstrated the colloidal quantum dot n-type material that does not bind oxygen when exposed to air.

Maintaining stable n- and p-type layers simultaneously not only boosts the efficiency of light absorption, it opens up a world of new optoelectronic devices that capitalise on the best properties of both light and electricity. For you and me, this means more sophisticated weather satellites, remote controllers, satellite communication or pollution detectors.

"This is a material innovation, that's the first part, and with this new material we can build new device structures," said Ning. "Iodide is almost a perfect ligand for these quantum solar cells with both high efficiency and air stability; no one has shown that before."

Ning's hybrid n- and p-type material achieved solar power conversion efficiency up to eight per cent, among the best results reported to date.

But improved performance is just a start for this quantum-dot-based solar cell architecture. The powerful little dots could be mixed into inks and painted or printed onto thin, flexible surfaces, such as roofing shingles, dramatically lowering the cost and accessibility of solar power for millions of people.

"The field of colloidal quantum dot photovoltaics requires continued improvement in absolute performance, or power conversion efficiency," said Sargent. "The field has moved fast, and keeps moving fast, but we need to work toward bringing performance to commercially compelling levels."

This research was conducted in collaboration with Dalhousie University, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology and Huazhong University of Science and Technology.

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