| VOL 4 | SEPTEMBER 2010 | www.nature.com/naturephotonics
QUANTUM DOT SOLAR CELLS
The best of both worlds
Ghassan E. Jabbour and David Doderer
Quantum-dot-based solar cells promise to deliver ef ciencies approaching those o crystalline solar cells but withthe manuacturing simplicity o organics.
Crystalline materials such as silicon,cadmium telluride and copper indiumgallium diselenide (CIGS) currently dominate the solar-cell market, withorganic and dye-sensitized devices beingregarded as the emerging technologies.However, large areas o crystalline solar cellsare inherently dif cult and expensive tomanuacture, and organic technologies haveso ar been unable to compete in terms o power-generation ef ciency.Fortunately, there is another technology on the horizon that promises to deliverthe best o both worlds — the ease-o-manuacturing o organic solar cells,combined with ef ciencies approachingthose o crystalline technologies. Aermany years o research and the developmento a cost-eective production technique,quantum dot solar cells based onsemiconductor nanocrystals embedded inan appropriate medium are now becoming acommercial reality.Until now, the most limiting actor inthe development o commercial quantumdot solar cells has been their cost. Tehistorically high prices or the quantum doteedstock have meant that a cell could not beabricated at a cost low enough to competewith conventional silicon solar cells, let alonewith ossil uel energy sources. However, thecapacity to now produce industrial amountso quantum dots is nally making it possibleto abricate high volumes o quantum dotsolar cells at competitive prices.Advances in chemistry andnanotechnology have also made it possibleto manuacture quantum dots rom dierenttypes o semiconductor nanocrystals easily and uniormly, avoiding the need or a cleanroom, a high-temperature process andultrahigh-vacuum equipment.o appreciate the attraction and potentialo quantum dot solar cells, it is rst necessary to understand the limitations o existingphotovoltaic technology. Conventional siliconsolar cells do not absorb the entire spectrumo the sun’s energy. Electron–hole pairs aregenerated when photons with energies morethan the bandgap o silicon (1.1 eV ~ 1.1 μm)are absorbed, with electrons being excited tothe conduction band and holes being createdin the valence band. However, a signicantpart o solar radiation is composed o visible-and ultraviolet-wavelength photons, whichhave energies ar exceeding the bandgap o silicon. Such energetic, shorter wavelengthphotons excite electrons into higher levels o the conduction band. Tese ‘hot’ electronsthen relax to the bottom o the conductionband (the associated holes relax to the topo the valence band) by giving up phonons,thus heating up the silicon crystal but notbringing any useul benet or electricity generation. Such heating can also degrade theperormance o the cell.Tese problems can all be solved usingquantum dot technology. Te bandgap o a quantum dot can be precisely controlledby its size, meaning that dierent sizes o quantum dots have dierent absorption bandedges. It is thereore possible to synthesizequantum dots o various sizes that absorbmost, i not all, o the sun’s spectrum —something than cannot be achieved usingthe conventional approaches o crystallinesilicon solar-cell abrication. One can thenenvision a multistack solar cell in which thetop layer absorbs the highest energy (shortestwavelength) photons and the bottom layerabsorbs the lowest energy photons. Tisapproach maximizes the absorption o sunlight by utilizing the photons that cannotbe collected by single-layer crystalline solarcells. Although the multistack scheme canalso be achieved using several dierenttraditional semiconductor materials (eachwith a dierent bandgap), the big advantageo quantum dots is that a single material isused or all o the layers comprising the solarcell (except or the electrodes).Te electrons and holes generated ina solar cell must travel to their respectiveelectrodes or the electrical potential to beuseul and drive a load. Te process o chargetransport within quantum dot solar cellscan be enhanced in several ways, includingthrough the use o materials that providequantum dots with a large Bohr radius mixedwith (or in the proximity o) an electron-accepting and electron-transporting material
The size tunability o quantum dots enables photovoltaic devices to harvest a broad range o wavelengthsover the solar spectrum. Here, various phials containing quantum dots o diferent sizes (in solution) canbe seen. The diferent colours indicate diferent absorption bands o light.
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