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


The wings of the black butterfly, Pachliopta aristolochiae, are covered by micro- and nanostructured scales that harvest sunlight over a wide spectral and angular range. Considering that these properties are particularly attractive for photovoltaic applications, we analyze the contribution of these micro- and nanostructures, focusing on the structural disorder observed in the wing scales. In addition to microspectroscopy experiments, we conduct three-dimensional optical simulations of the exact scale structure. On the basis of these results, we design nanostructured thin photovoltaic absorbers of disordered nanoholes, which combine efficient light in-coupling and light-trapping properties together with a high angular robustness. Finally, inspired by the phase separation mechanism of self-assembled biophotonic nanostructures, we fabricate these bioinspired absorbers using a scalable, self-assembly patterning technique based on the phase separation of binary polymer mixture. The nanopatterned absorbers achieve a relative integrated absorption increase of 90% at a normal incident angle of light to as high as 200% at large incident angles, demonstrating the potential of black butterfly structures for light-harvesting purposes in thin-film solar cells.

Concepts: Light, Structure, Refraction, Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Dye-sensitized solar cell, Thin film solar cell, Angle


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


Materials with switchable absorption properties have been widely used for smart window applications to reduce energy consumption and enhance occupant comfort in buildings. In this work, we combine the benefits of smart windows with energy conversion by producing a photovoltaic device with a switchable absorber layer that dynamically responds to sunlight. Upon illumination, photothermal heating switches the absorber layer-composed of a metal halide perovskite-methylamine complex-from a transparent state (68% visible transmittance) to an absorbing, photovoltaic colored state (less than 3% visible transmittance) due to dissociation of methylamine. After cooling, the methylamine complex is re-formed, returning the absorber layer to the transparent state in which the device acts as a window to visible light. The thermodynamics of switching and performance of the device are described. This work validates a photovoltaic window technology that circumvents the fundamental tradeoff between efficient solar conversion and high visible light transmittance that limits conventional semitransparent PV window designs.

Concepts: Spectroscopy, Energy, Optics, Light, Photovoltaics, Window, Absorbance, Transmittance


Despite the impressive photovoltaic performances with power conversion efficiency beyond 22%, perovskite solar cells are poorly stable under operation, failing by far the market requirements. Various technological approaches have been proposed to overcome the instability problem, which, while delivering appreciable incremental improvements, are still far from a market-proof solution. Here we show one-year stable perovskite devices by engineering an ultra-stable 2D/3D (HOOC(CH2)4NH3)2PbI4/CH3NH3PbI3 perovskite junction. The 2D/3D forms an exceptional gradually-organized multi-dimensional interface that yields up to 12.9% efficiency in a carbon-based architecture, and 14.6% in standard mesoporous solar cells. To demonstrate the up-scale potential of our technology, we fabricate 10 × 10 cm(2) solar modules by a fully printable industrial-scale process, delivering 11.2% efficiency stable for >10,000 h with zero loss in performances measured under controlled standard conditions. This innovative stable and low-cost architecture will enable the timely commercialization of perovskite solar cells.

Concepts: Energy, Engineering, Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Energy conversion, Energy conversion efficiency, Technology, Photovoltaic module