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Quantum Dot Solar Cells: The best of both Worlds

Quantum Dot Solar Cells: The best of both Worlds

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Published by Dr. Bob Glass
Quantum Dot Solar Cells: The best of both Worlds by Ghassan E. Jabbour and David Doderer, both part of Solterra Renewable Technologies Inc.
Quantum Dot Solar Cells: The best of both Worlds by Ghassan E. Jabbour and David Doderer, both part of Solterra Renewable Technologies Inc.

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Categories:Types, Research, Science
Published by: Dr. Bob Glass on Sep 02, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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| VOL 4 | SEPTEMBER 2010 | www.nature.com/naturephotonics
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 manuacturing 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 tomanuacture, 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-manuacturing o organic solar cells,combined with ef ciencies approachingthose o crystalline technologies. Aermany years o research and the developmento a cost-eective 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 doteedstock have meant that a cell could not beabricated 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 manuacture quantum dots rom dierenttypes o semiconductor nanocrystals easily and uniormly, 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 signicantpart 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 useul benet or electricity generation. Such heating can also degrade theperormance 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 dierent sizes o quantum dots have dierent absorption bandedges. It is thereore 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 dierenttraditional semiconductor materials (eachwith a dierent 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 beuseul 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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