Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Photovoltaics


Solar energy is potentially the largest source of renewable energy at our disposal, but significant advances are required to make photovoltaic technologies economically viable and, from a life-cycle perspective, environmentally friendly, and consequently scalable. Cellulose nanomaterials are emerging high-value nanoparticles extracted from plants that are abundant, renewable, and sustainable. Here, we report on the first demonstration of efficient polymer solar cells fabricated on optically transparent cellulose nanocrystal (CNC) substrates. The solar cells fabricated on the CNC substrates display good rectification in the dark and reach a power conversion efficiency of 2.7%. In addition, we demonstrate that these solar cells can be easily separated and recycled into their major components using low-energy processes at room temperature, opening the door for a truly recyclable solar cell technology. Efficient and easily recyclable organic solar cells on CNC substrates are expected to be an attractive technology for sustainable, scalable, and environmentally-friendly energy production.

Concepts: Energy, Quantum dot, Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Organic solar cell, Energy conversion, Energy conversion efficiency, Renewable energy


Recent advances in nanophotonic light trapping open up the new gateway to enhance the absorption of solar energy beyond the so called Yablonovitch Limit. It addresses the urgent needs in developing low cost thin-film solar photovoltaic technologies. However, current design strategy mainly relies on the parametric approach that is subject to the predefined topological design concepts based on physical intuition. Incapable of dealing with the topological variation severely constrains the design of optimal light trapping structure. Inspired by natural evolution process, here we report a design framework driven by topology optimization based on genetic algorithms to achieve a highly efficient light trapping structure. It has been demonstrated that the optimal light trapping structures obtained in this study exhibit more than 3-fold increase over the Yablonovitch Limit with the broadband absorption efficiency of 48.1%, beyond the reach of intuitive designs.

Concepts: Evolution, Energy, Topology, Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Design, Solar energy, Solar thermal energy


In this work, we report a direct synthesis of vertically aligned ZnO nanowires on fluorine-doped tin oxide-coated substrates using the chemical vapor deposition (CVD) method. ZnO nanowires with a length of more than 30 μm were synthesized, and dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs) based on the as-grown nanowires were fabricated, which showed improvement of the device performance compared to those fabricated using transferred ZnO nanowires. Dependence of the cell performance on nanowire length and annealing temperature was also examined. This synthesis method provided a straightforward, one-step CVD process to grow relatively long ZnO nanowires and avoided subsequent nanowire transfer process, which simplified DSSC fabrication and improved cell performance.

Concepts: Chromosome, Chemical reaction, Nanowire, Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Titanium dioxide, Dye-sensitized solar cell, Chemical vapor deposition


With particular focus on bulk heterojunction solar cells incorporating ZnO nanorods, we study how different annealing environments (air or Zn environment) and temperatures impact on the photoluminescence response. Our work gives new insight into the complex defect landscape in ZnO, and it also shows how the different defect types can be manipulated. We have determined the emission wavelengths for the two main defects which make up the visible band, the oxygen vacancy emission wavelength at approximately 530 nm and the zinc vacancy emission wavelength at approximately 630 nm. The precise nature of the defect landscape in the bulk of the nanorods is found to be unimportant to photovoltaic cell performance although the surface structure is more critical. Annealing of the nanorods is optimum at 300[degree sign]C as this is a sufficiently high temperature to decompose Zn(OH)2 formed at the surface of the nanorods during electrodeposition and sufficiently low to prevent ITO degradation.

Concepts: Light, Zinc, Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Indium tin oxide, Visible spectrum, Photovoltaic module, Band gap


Decisions determining the use of land for energy are of exigent concern as land scarcity, the need for ecosystem services, and demands for energy generation have concomitantly increased globally. Utility-scale solar energy (USSE) [i.e., ≥1 megawatt (MW)] development requires large quantities of space and land; however, studies quantifying the effect of USSE on land cover change and protected areas are limited. We assessed siting impacts of >160 USSE installations by technology type [photovoltaic (PV) vs. concentrating solar power (CSP)], area (in square kilometers), and capacity (in MW) within the global solar hot spot of the state of California (United States). Additionally, we used the Carnegie Energy and Environmental Compatibility model, a multiple criteria model, to quantify each installation according to environmental and technical compatibility. Last, we evaluated installations according to their proximity to protected areas, including inventoried roadless areas, endangered and threatened species habitat, and federally protected areas. We found the plurality of USSE (6,995 MW) in California is sited in shrublands and scrublands, comprising 375 km(2) of land cover change. Twenty-eight percent of USSE installations are located in croplands and pastures, comprising 155 km(2) of change. Less than 15% of USSE installations are sited in “Compatible” areas. The majority of “Incompatible” USSE power plants are sited far from existing transmission infrastructure, and all USSE installations average at most 7 and 5 km from protected areas, for PV and CSP, respectively. Where energy, food, and conservation goals intersect, environmental compatibility can be achieved when resource opportunities, constraints, and trade-offs are integrated into siting decisions.

Concepts: Sun, Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Solar energy, Solar power, Nuclear power, Solar thermal energy, Concentrating solar power


Man’s harvesting of photovoltaic energy requires the deployment of extensive arrays of solar panels. To improve both the gathering of thermal and photovoltaic energy from the sun we have examined the concept of biomimicry in white butterflies of the family Pieridae. We tested the hypothesis that the V-shaped posture of basking white butterflies mimics the V-trough concentrator which is designed to increase solar input to photovoltaic cells. These solar concentrators improve harvesting efficiency but are both heavy and bulky, severely limiting their deployment. Here, we show that the attachment of butterfly wings to a solar cell increases its output power by 42.3%, proving that the wings are indeed highly reflective. Importantly, and relative to current concentrators, the wings improve the power to weight ratio of the overall structure 17-fold, vastly expanding their potential application. Moreover, a single mono-layer of scale cells removed from the butterflies' wings maintained this high reflectivity showing that a single layer of scale cell-like structures can also form a useful coating. As predicted, the wings increased the temperature of the butterflies' thorax dramatically, showing that the V-shaped basking posture of white butterflies has indeed evolved to increase the temperature of their flight muscles prior to take-off.

Concepts: Sun, Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Lepidoptera, Photovoltaic module, Butterfly, Photovoltaic array, Pieridae


Power supply represents a critical challenge in the development of body-integrated electronic technologies. Although recent research establishes an impressive variety of options in energy storage (batteries and supercapacitors) and generation (triboelectric, piezoelectric, thermoelectric, and photovoltaic devices), the modest electrical performance and/or the absence of soft, biocompatible mechanical properties limit their practical use. The results presented here form the basis of soft, skin-compatible means for efficient photovoltaic generation and high-capacity storage of electrical power using dual-junction, compound semiconductor solar cells and chip-scale, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, respectively. Miniaturized components, deformable interconnects, optimized array layouts, and dual-composition elastomer substrates, superstrates, and encapsulation layers represent key features. Systematic studies of the materials and mechanics identify optimized designs, including unusual configurations that exploit a folded, multilayer construct to improve the functional density without adversely affecting the soft, stretchable characteristics. System-level examples exploit such technologies in fully wireless sensors for precision skin thermography, with capabilities in continuous data logging and local processing, validated through demonstrations on volunteer subjects in various realistic scenarios.

Concepts: Electricity, Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Rechargeable battery, Capacitor, Lithium-ion battery, Solar energy, Nickel-cadmium battery


Cadmium telluride, CdTe, is now firmly established as the basis for the market-leading thin-film solar-cell technology. With laboratory efficiencies approaching 20 per cent, the research and development targets for CdTe are to reduce the cost of power generation further to less than half a US dollar per watt (ref. 2) and to minimize the environmental impact. A central part of the manufacturing process involves doping the polycrystalline thin-film CdTe with CdCl2. This acts to form the photovoltaic junction at the CdTe/CdS interface and to passivate the grain boundaries, making it essential in achieving high device efficiencies. However, although such doping has been almost ubiquitous since the development of this processing route over 25 years ago, CdCl2 has two severe disadvantages; it is both expensive (about 30 cents per gram) and a water-soluble source of toxic cadmium ions, presenting a risk to both operators and the environment during manufacture. Here we demonstrate that solar cells prepared using MgCl2, which is non-toxic and costs less than a cent per gram, have efficiencies (around 13%) identical to those of a CdCl2-processed control group. They have similar hole densities in the active layer (9 × 10(14) cm(-3)) and comparable impurity profiles for Cl and O, these elements being important p-type dopants for CdTe thin films. Contrary to expectation, CdCl2-processed and MgCl2-processed solar cells contain similar concentrations of Mg; this is because of Mg out-diffusion from the soda-lime glass substrates and is not disadvantageous to device performance. However, treatment with other low-cost chlorides such as NaCl, KCl and MnCl2 leads to the introduction of electrically active impurities that do compromise device performance. Our results demonstrate that CdCl2 may simply be replaced directly with MgCl2 in the existing fabrication process, thus both minimizing the environmental risk and reducing the cost of CdTe solar-cell production.

Concepts: Semiconductor, Cadmium, Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Cost, Cadmium telluride, Cadmium sulfide, United States dollar


Structural characteristics of the active layers in organic photovoltaic (OPV) devices play a critical role in charge generation, separation and transport. Here we report on morphology and structural control of p-DTS(FBTTh2)2:PC71BM films by means of thermal annealing and 1,8-diiodooctane (DIO) solvent additive processing, and correlate it to the device performance. By combining surface imaging with nanoscale depth-sensitive neutron reflectometry (NR) and X-ray diffraction, three-dimensional morphologies of the films are reconstituted with information extending length scales from nanometers to microns. DIO promotes the formation of a well-mixed donor-acceptor vertical phase morphology with a large population of small p-DTS(FBTTh2)2 nanocrystals arranged in an elongated domain network of the film, thereby enhancing the device performance. In contrast, films without DIO exhibit three-sublayer vertical phase morphology with phase separation in agglomerated domains. Our findings are supported by thermodynamic description based on the Flory-Huggins theory with quantitative evaluation of pairwise interaction parameters that explain the morphological changes resulting from thermal and solvent treatments. Our study reveals that vertical phase morphology of small-molecule based OPVs is significantly different from polymer-based systems. The significant enhancement of morphology and information obtained from theoretical modeling may aid in developing an optimized morphology to enhance device performance for OPVs.

Concepts: Protein, Diffraction, X-ray, Orders of magnitude, Organic compound, Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Theory


Following pioneering work, solution-processable organic-inorganic hybrid perovskites-such as CH3NH3PbX3 (X = Cl, Br, I)-have attracted attention as light-harvesting materials for mesoscopic solar cells. So far, the perovskite pigment has been deposited in a single step onto mesoporous metal oxide films using a mixture of PbX2 and CH3NH3X in a common solvent. However, the uncontrolled precipitation of the perovskite produces large morphological variations, resulting in a wide spread of photovoltaic performance in the resulting devices, which hampers the prospects for practical applications. Here we describe a sequential deposition method for the formation of the perovskite pigment within the porous metal oxide film. PbI2 is first introduced from solution into a nanoporous titanium dioxide film and subsequently transformed into the perovskite by exposing it to a solution of CH3NH3I. We find that the conversion occurs within the nanoporous host as soon as the two components come into contact, permitting much better control over the perovskite morphology than is possible with the previously employed route. Using this technique for the fabrication of solid-state mesoscopic solar cells greatly increases the reproducibility of their performance and allows us to achieve a power conversion efficiency of approximately 15 per cent (measured under standard AM1.5G test conditions on solar zenith angle, solar light intensity and cell temperature). This two-step method should provide new opportunities for the fabrication of solution-processed photovoltaic cells with unprecedented power conversion efficiencies and high stability equal to or even greater than those of today’s best thin-film photovoltaic devices.

Concepts: Oxygen, Oxide, Cadmium, Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Titanium dioxide, Energy conversion efficiency, Titanium