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Quantum Dot Based Solar Cells

Turan lhan*
*Metallurgical and Materials Engineering Department, Middle East Technical University, 06800 Ankara, Turkey

22 January 2017


Limited efficiency and high production cost of 1st and 2nd generation solar cells cause to
seek for cheaper and more efficient solar cells. One of the most important candidate for high
efficiency 3rd generation solar cells is quantum dot based solar cells. Tunable band gap and
other properties of quantum dots attract attention. In this study, basis, types and fabrication
techniques of quantum dot solar cells wil be analyzed basically. Colloidal quantum dots are
studied predominantly due to their easy and cheap processability. Due to the this reason,
this study also will focus on colloidal quantum dot based solar cells mainly.

Keywords: Quantum dots, quantum dot based solar cells, multiple exciton generation, 3rd
generation solar cells.

1. Introduction

To understand how Q-Dots are applied to absorber. In this study, quantum dot
solar cells, it is vital to know working sensitized solar cells are not considered.
principles of a typical solar cell. In a
traditional solar cell, incident light is It is necessity to give basic information
absorbed by a semiconductor and photo- about quantum dots before solar cell
excited electrons create currents. In silicon discussion. Basically, they are nano size
based solar cells, usually more than one p-n semiconductors. Their band gap can be
jucntion are atteched to imrove efficiency. It adjusted by changing their size thanks to
can be easily understood that the most quantum confinement effect. When Bohr
important challenge for solar energy is radius of an exciton (electron-hole pair) is
efficiency. Schockley and Queisser stated smaller than particle size, quantum
that maximum efficiency which can be confinement effect is observed. In this
obtained by a single junction silicon based condition, particles can take only discrete
solar cell is limited by 32%.3 Maximum energy states, not a continous energy band
achieved power conversion efficiency (PCE) diagram. In conclusion, it can be said that
is 25% in first generation solar cells.4 To quantum dots have electronic properties
obtain more efficiency and to create really between individual atom and bulk
functional renewable energy tehcnology, semiconductors.5 Additionaly, as particle size
many different tehnologies are proposed. increases Egap of a quantum dot decreases.
One of them is usage of quantum dots in
solar cells. Actually quantum dots can be
used in solar cells as both sensitizer and main
1.1 Why Quantum Dots?

Two important characteristic properties of To classify a solar cell as 3rd generation;

quantum dots make them favourite material followings must be satisfied: PCE must be
for solar cells applications. One of these higher than 32% (Schockley-Queisser limit)
properties is tunability of band gap. In silicon and cost of per watt must be lower than
based solar cells, 19% of energy of the 0.2$.3 In todays technology there are two
incident light can not be absorbed8 because possibilites which are accepted as candidate
their enegry (red side of the visible light for 3rd generation solar cells; Q-Dot based
spectrum) is not enough to excite electrons. solar cells and perovskite solar cells which is
Thus, if energy gap of the absorber one of the recent technologies. Perovskite
semiconductors is reduced so that it can solar cells will be mentioned briefly in
absorb the low energy light, efficiency of the following parts of this paper.
solar cell increases significantly. Many
scientists tries to absorb red side of the
visible light spectrum by using Q-Dots with 2. Types of Q-Dot Solar Cells and Basic
proper sizes. Quantum dots enable to Working Principles
prevent significant amount of energy (19% of
incident light) from going to waste. All over the world, many scientist tries to
produe Q-Dot solar cells with different
In traditional solar cells (1st and 2nd configuration and geometry but 4 of them
generation), 33% of the energy of the come to the front. Note that, different from
incident light is lost due to thermalization.8 these four types Q-Dot based solar cell, Q-
Thermalization loss can be explained by this Dot sensitized solar cells also exist but they
way: the electromagnetic radiation which are not in the scope of this study.
have energy higher than the Egap is absorbed
but excess energy goes to waste as heat and 2.1 Schottky Solar Cells Based On Quantum
this loss is called as thermalization loss. In Q- Dots
Dot solar cells, thermalization loss is
minimized by a mechanism which is called as It is the most basic type of quantum dot
Multiple Exciton Generation (MEG).5 MEG based solar cells. Typical structure of such
means that an incident photon can excite solar cells is shown in Figure 1. Usually P-
electrons more than one time. In this Type quantum dot layer is placed between
mechanism, excess energy is used to excite ITO (Indium Tin Oxide, which is a conductive
other electrons; it is not dissipated as heat. glass) and metal electrode. Incoming electro-
magnetic radiation is absorbed by Q-Dot
Easy and cheap processability of colloidal layer and photo-excited electrons move
quantum6 dots must be also considered in a towards metal while holes towards ITO. ITO
discussion related to solar energy. Although act as contact layer for excited electrons and
silicon based solar cell technology has the metal should have low work function to
become a mature technology, it is still increase efficiency.
expensive. Quantum dots may also help to
produce cheap and easily accessible In these solar cells, Schottky barrier is
renewable energy. formed between thin Q-Dot layer and metal
electrode due to band bending on the
interface. This Schottky barrier act as a
barrier for withdrawal of holes.

Figure 2: Depleted heterojunction

solar cells in the presence of external

By comparing Schottky Cells and DHSCBQD,

it can be said that photocurrent in Schottky
cells is higher than that of DHSCBQD. In
addition, open circiut voltage is higher in
DHSCBQDQ-Dot.7 These advantages caused
Figure 1: Schottky solar cells based on by depleted region in DHSCBQD. In recent
Q-Dots7 studies, scientists usually use Q-Dots which
have band gaps closer to infra-red side of the
Schottky solar cells have two major electro-magnetic spectrum. This increases
disadvantages. The first one is recombination absorption of the light; thus, efficiency of the
of charge carriers. During operation of cell, solar cell.
before reaching metal electrode, charge
carriers should travel whole layer. This 2.3 ETA/P-I-N Structure Solar Cells
situation causes recombination of charge
carriers. The other disadvantege is low
This type is the one of the long-studied
voltage value. Open-circiut potential is
quantum dot solar cells. In this type, intrinsic
limited in these solar cells; this limitation is
layer is placed between extrinsic p-type and
related to Fermi level pinning and this
n-type layers of Q-Dots. Electrons are excited
mechanism beyond scope of this study.
from the intrinsic layer. N-Type and P-Type
layer act as transforming layer for photo-
2.2 Depleted Heterojunction Solar Cells Based
generated carriers. This type of solar cells are
On Quantum Dots
also called as extremely thin absorber solar
cell due to very low thickness of absorber
In this type of solar cell, following layers
layer, which is intrinsic layer.
exist from outer surface to inner: protective
glass, indium tin oxide, electron transporting In ETA Solar cells, electrons move through
layer (it is usually titania), PbS Q-Dot film and ntype region; and holes to p-type region.
metal. Depleted heterojunction solar cell Electron and hole flow in the presence of
(DHSCQD) can be seen in Figure 2 incoming light can be seen from Figure 3-b,
schematically. Unlike Schottky solar cells, and figure 3-a shows the electron flow in the
holes move towards to metal and photo- presence of external load.5
excited electrons progress to TiO2 layer. In
Figure 2, one can see electron motion in the
presence of external load.
Figure 3: Extremely thin absorber Figure 4: A schematic drawing of organic-
solar cells.5 inorganic heterojunction Q-dot based
solar cell.5

2.4 Inorganic Organic Heterojunction Solar

Cells 3. Production Techniques of Q-Dot Solar
Their working principles are similar to P-I-N
solar cells. Major differences caused by There are many different types of quantum
binding between conductor oxide and Q-dot dot solar cells. In addition, there is no
layer. It is found that, usage of organic hole industrial scale production of Q-Dot solar
conductor gives better efficiency with cell. Taking into consideration these two
respect to P-I-N solar cells. According to a factors, it can be said that there is no mature
study5, maximum efficiency is reached by or most appropriate fabrication technique
using Sb2S3 quantum dots. In Figure 4, a for Q-Dot solar cell production. Many
schematic drawing of this type solar cells can scientist all over the world try to produce
be seen. higher efficiency Q-Dot solar cell and they
Although maximum achieved efficiency is use different types fabrication techniques.
low, it is tought that performance of hole Sometimes they try untried methods.
conductor (that is efficiency) can be Nevertheless, some techniques become
increased by changing size of the TiO2 prominent with respect to others.
particles5 which is host matrix of quantum Before explaining common fabrication
dots. But, how TiO2 particle size affects techniques used in Q-Dot solar cell, it must
efficiency of inorganic-organic be noted that a typical quantum dot solar cell
heterojunction solar cell is beyond the scope fabrication consists of multiple steps which
of this study. are necessary to produce different layers of
solar cell. Production of each layer will be
In another study5, CdSe Q-Dots are used
examined seperately.
instead of Sb2S3 and MEH-PPV was used
instead of P3HT.
3.1 Fabrication of Quantum Dot Films 3.4 Fabrication of Extremely Thin Absorber

In the production of quantum dots, In addition to above mentioned fabrication

generally two major techniques are used: techniques, it is necessary to give some
colloidal technique and molecular beam information about fabrication of Extremely
epitaxy. A great majority of Q-Dot solar cell Thin Absorber Q-Dot based solar cell. Since
research are based on colloidal quantum absorber layer in these type solar cells is very
dots. Thus, it will be more practival to focus thin, fabrication of it requires another
on colloidal Q-Dots in the discussion of techiniques rather than dip coating and spin
production of Q-Dot layer. coating. Some of the techniques to fabricate
thin absorber layer are followings: atomic
The heart of the Q-Dot solar cells, which
layer deposition, plasma assisted chemical
is quantum dot layer, is usually produced by
vapor deposition, successive ion-layer
dip coating or spin coating. In dip coating,
adsorption and reaction (SILAR), electro-
substrate (which is usually ITO or FTO) is
dipped in to a solution which contains pre-
synthesized Q-Dots. Dipping process usually
repeated many times until reaching desired 4. Challenges and Recent Studies
thickness. Likewise dip coating, spin coating
is also applied repeatedly. Dip coating is Although their several advantages,
slower process than spin coating but in spin maximum accured efficiency in Q-Dot solar
coating, some material is lost due to spin off. cells is not more than 10%. This low efficiency
After coating, the material is dried.2 caused by mainly two reasons which are
problems related to charge carrier mobilities
3.2 Deposition of TiO2 layer on Q-Dot Solar
and charge carrier recombination. To solve
these and other problems and to produce
One of the most common studied Q-Dot solar more efficient solar cells, scientists use
cell s depleted heterojunction solar cells. In mainly surface engineering concept.
this type solar cells, a conductive TiO2 layer
In addition, MEG mechanism does not
exists. TiO2 is attached to the solar cell
make as good as expected contribution to
usually via spin casting. Befor spin casting,
efficiency. Many scientists study to fully
sol-gel precursor of titania is prepared and
understand carrier relaxation and MEG
this precursor is applied to the substrate.
mechanism to create multiple excitation with
In some studies, researchers may preffer to single photon.1
use ZnO instead of TiO2. In a study, in the case
Toxicity is another problem of Q-Dot solar
of ZnO usage, some compoitional changes
cells. Most of the highest efficient solar cells
during sol-gel processing are advised.2
are based on quantum dots which contain
3.3 Fabrication of Metal Parts lead and/or cadmium. These quantum dots
must be replaced with non toxic ones.
Almost all types of Q-Dot based solar cells
contains metal parts. Metals are attached to
the solar cell by thermal evaporation.
Another threat for Q-Dot solar cells is
Thermal evaporation must be done under
perovskite solar cells which is one of the
vacuum to prevent air bubble formation or
most recent technologies in renewable
other undesired compund deposition.3
energy. Perovskite solar cells was produced
in 2009 firstly. In a short while (a few years),
their efficiency exceeded 20%. Perovskite
solar cells has potential to change destiny of er.6b02939
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based solar cells.4 Photovoltaics. London, New York: Springer
Science+Business Media, 2012.
5. Conclusion
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begin to attract attention day by day. High
PCE promise of perovskite solar cells may
block studies Q-Dot based solar cells. Instead
of main absorber materials in solar cells,
quantum dots can also be used as sensitizer
for other solar cells. Some scientists think
that Q-Dots have tendency to be used as
sensitezer in future, rather than main

6. References

[1] A.J. Nozik (2002). Quantum Dot Solar Cells.

Physica, Volume 14, Issues 12 Pages 115120.

[2] Boris D. Chernomordik, Ashley R. Marshall,

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