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Concept: Photovoltaics


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


A long-lived hot carrier population is critical in order to develop working hot carrier photovoltaic devices with efficiencies exceeding the Shockley-Queisser limit. Here, we report photoluminescence from hot-carriers with unexpectedly long lifetime (a few ns) in formamidinium tin triiodide. An unusual large blue shift of the time-integrated photoluminescence with increasing excitation power (150 meV at 24 K and 75 meV at 293 K) is displayed. On the basis of the analysis of energy-resolved and time-resolved photoluminescence, we posit that these phenomena are associated with slow hot carrier relaxation and state-filling of band edge states. These observations are both important for our understanding of lead-free hybrid perovskites and for an eventual future development of efficient lead-free perovskite photovoltaics.

Concepts: Light, Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Perovskite, Photovoltaic module


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


Fabrication of thin-film solar cells (TFSCs) on substrates other than Si and glass has been challenging because these nonconventional substrates are not suitable for the current TFSC fabrication processes due to poor surface flatness and low tolerance to high temperature and chemical processing. Here, we report a new peel-and-stick process that circumvents these fabrication challenges by peeling off the fully fabricated TFSCs from the original Si wafer and attaching TFSCs to virtually any substrates regardless of materials, flatness and rigidness. With the peel-and-stick process, we integrated hydrogenated amorphous silicon (a-Si:H) TFSCs on paper, plastics, cell phone and building windows while maintaining the original 7.5% efficiency. The new peel-and-stick process enables further reduction of the cost and weight for TFSCs and endows TFSCs with flexibility and attachability for broader application areas. We believe that the peel-and-stick process can be applied to thin film electronics as well.

Concepts: Semiconductor, Silicon, Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Dye-sensitized solar cell, Thin film solar cell, Crystalline silicon, Amorphous silicon


Dye-sensitized solar cells based on titanium dioxide (TiO(2)) are promising low-cost alternatives to conventional solid-state photovoltaic devices based on materials such as Si, CdTe and CuIn(1-x)Ga(x)Se(2) (refs 1, 2). Despite offering relatively high conversion efficiencies for solar energy, typical dye-sensitized solar cells suffer from durability problems that result from their use of organic liquid electrolytes containing the iodide/tri-iodide redox couple, which causes serious problems such as electrode corrosion and electrolyte leakage. Replacements for iodine-based liquid electrolytes have been extensively studied, but the efficiencies of the resulting devices remain low. Here we show that the solution-processable p-type direct bandgap semiconductor CsSnI(3) can be used for hole conduction in lieu of a liquid electrolyte. The resulting solid-state dye-sensitized solar cells consist of CsSnI(2.95)F(0.05) doped with SnF(2), nanoporous TiO(2) and the dye N719, and show conversion efficiencies of up to 10.2 per cent (8.51 per cent with a mask). With a bandgap of 1.3 electronvolts, CsSnI(3) enhances visible light absorption on the red side of the spectrum to outperform the typical dye-sensitized solar cells in this spectral region.

Concepts: Electrochemistry, Semiconductor, Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Titanium dioxide, Electrolyte, Dye-sensitized solar cell, Germanium


Silicon nanowire and nanopore arrays promise to reduce manufacturing costs and increase the power conversion efficiency of photovoltaic devices. So far, however, photovoltaic cells based on nanostructured silicon exhibit lower power conversion efficiencies than conventional cells due to the enhanced photocarrier recombination associated with the nanostructures. Here, we identify and separately measure surface recombination and Auger recombination in wafer-based nanostructured silicon solar cells. By identifying the regimes of junction doping concentration in which each mechanism dominates, we were able to design and fabricate an independently confirmed 18.2%-efficient nanostructured ‘black-silicon’ cell that does not need the antireflection coating layer(s) normally required to reach a comparable performance level. Our results suggest design rules for efficient high-surface-area solar cells with nano- and microstructured semiconductor absorbers.

Concepts: Semiconductor, Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Energy conversion efficiency, Germanium, Photovoltaic module, P-n junction, Carrier generation and recombination


Colloidal quantum dot (CQD) films allow large-area solution processing and bandgap tuning through the quantum size effect. However, the high ratio of surface area to volume makes CQD films prone to high trap state densities if surfaces are imperfectly passivated, promoting recombination of charge carriers that is detrimental to device performance. Recent advances have replaced the long insulating ligands that enable colloidal stability following synthesis with shorter organic linkers or halide anions, leading to improved passivation and higher packing densities. Although this substitution has been performed using solid-state ligand exchange, a solution-based approach is preferable because it enables increased control over the balance of charges on the surface of the quantum dot, which is essential for eliminating midgap trap states. Furthermore, the solution-based approach leverages recent progress in metal:chalcogen chemistry in the liquid phase. Here, we quantify the density of midgap trap states in CQD solids and show that the performance of CQD-based photovoltaics is now limited by electron-hole recombination due to these states. Next, using density functional theory and optoelectronic device modelling, we show that to improve this performance it is essential to bind a suitable ligand to each potential trap site on the surface of the quantum dot. We then develop a robust hybrid passivation scheme that involves introducing halide anions during the end stages of the synthesis process, which can passivate trap sites that are inaccessible to much larger organic ligands. An organic crosslinking strategy is then used to form the film. Finally, we use our hybrid passivated CQD solid to fabricate a solar cell with a certified efficiency of 7.0%, which is a record for a CQD photovoltaic device.

Concepts: Density, Volume, Condensed matter physics, Density functional theory, Semiconductor, Liquid, Solar cell, Photovoltaics


Interfaces between organic electron-donating (D) and electron-accepting (A) materials have the ability to generate charge carriers on illumination. Efficient organic solar cells require a high yield for this process, combined with a minimum of energy losses. Here, we investigate the role of the lowest energy emissive interfacial charge-transfer state (CT1) in the charge generation process. We measure the quantum yield and the electric field dependence of charge generation on excitation of the charge-transfer (CT) state manifold via weakly allowed, low-energy optical transitions. For a wide range of photovoltaic devices based on polymer:fullerene, small-molecule:C60 and polymer:polymer blends, our study reveals that the internal quantum efficiency (IQE) is essentially independent of whether or not D, A or CT states with an energy higher than that of CT1 are excited. The best materials systems show an IQE higher than 90% without the need for excess electronic or vibrational energy.

Concepts: Photon, Quantum mechanics, Light, Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Physical quantities, Quantum efficiency, Quantum yield


Thin-film photovoltaic devices based on chalcopyrite Cu(In,Ga)Se2 (CIGS) absorber layers show excellent light-to-power conversion efficiencies exceeding 20% (refs , ). This high performance level requires a small amount of alkaline metals incorporated into the CIGS layer, naturally provided by soda lime glass substrates used for processing of champion devices. The use of flexible substrates requires distinct incorporation of the alkaline metals, and so far mainly Na was believed to be the most favourable element, whereas other alkaline metals have resulted in significantly inferior device performance. Here we present a new sequential post-deposition treatment of the CIGS layer with sodium and potassium fluoride that enables fabrication of flexible photovoltaic devices with a remarkable conversion efficiency due to modified interface properties and mitigation of optical losses in the CdS buffer layer. The described treatment leads to a significant depletion of Cu and Ga concentrations in the CIGS near-surface region and enables a significant thickness reduction of the CdS buffer layer without the commonly observed losses in photovoltaic parameters. Ion exchange processes, well known in other research areas, are proposed as underlying mechanisms responsible for the changes in chemical composition of the deposited CIGS layer and interface properties of the heterojunction.

Concepts: Chemistry, Sodium, Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Potassium, Energy conversion efficiency, Alkali metal, Copper indium gallium selenide