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

Concept: Solar cell


Semiconductor nanowires with both nano- and micrometre dimensions have been used as effective materials for artificial photosynthesis; however, a single synthesis approach to provide rational control over the macroscopic morphology, which can allow for the high-throughput screening of photocatalytic performance, and carrier transfer between oxide and sulphide nanostructures has been poorly known. Our recent findings indicate that a single parameter, Nb foil thickness, in a vapor-phase synthesis method can alter the macroscopic morphology of resulting Nb2O5 nanowires. Thick Nb foil results in a free-standing Nb2O5 film, whereas a thinner foil leads to fragmentation to give a powder. During the synthesis process, a Rh dopant was provided through metal-organic chemical vapor deposition to reduce the Nb2O5 energy gap. Upon irradiation with visible light (λ > 440 nm), the free-standing nanowire film [Nb2O5:Rh-NW(F)] showed photoanodic current with a Faradaic efficiency of 99% for O2 evolution. Under identical irradiation conditions, the powdered counterpart [Nb2O5:Rh-NW(P)] showed activity for O2 evolution in the presence of an electron acceptor. The poor water-reduction ability was greatly enhanced by the Au-catalysed vapor-liquid-solid (VLS) growth of H2-evolving CdS onto the reduction sites of Nb2O5:Rh-NW(P) [Au/CdS/Nb2O5:Rh-NW(P)].

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Light, Electrochemistry, Nanowire, Solar cell, Chemical vapor deposition, Electron acceptor, Vapor-liquid-solid method


Photovoltaic cells have considerable potential to satisfy future renewable-energy needs, but efficient and scalable methods of storing the intermittent electricity they produce are required for the large-scale implementation of solar energy. Current solar-to-fuels storage cycles based on water splitting produce hydrogen and oxygen, which are attractive fuels in principle but confront practical limitations from the current energy infrastructure that is based on liquid fuels. In this work, we report the development of a scalable, integrated bioelectrochemical system in which the bacterium Ralstonia eutropha is used to efficiently convert CO2, along with H2 and O2 produced from water splitting, into biomass and fusel alcohols. Water-splitting catalysis was performed using catalysts that are made of earth-abundant metals and enable low overpotential water splitting. In this integrated setup, equivalent solar-to-biomass yields of up to 3.2% of the thermodynamic maximum exceed that of most terrestrial plants. Moreover, engineering of R. eutropha enabled production of the fusel alcohol isopropanol at up to 216 mg/L, the highest bioelectrochemical fuel yield yet reported by >300%. This work demonstrates that catalysts of biotic and abiotic origin can be interfaced to achieve challenging chemical energy-to-fuels transformations.

Concepts: Oxygen, Alcohol, Metabolism, Energy, Hydrogen, Ethanol, Heat, Solar cell


Wearable electronics fabricated on lightweight and flexible substrate are believed to have great potential for portable devices, but their applications are limited by the life span of their batteries. We propose a hybridized self-charging power textile system with the aim of simultaneously collecting outdoor sunshine and random body motion energies and then storing them in an energy storage unit. Both of the harvested energies can be easily converted into electricity by using fiber-shaped dye-sensitized solar cells (for solar energy) and fiber-shaped triboelectric nanogenerators (for random body motion energy) and then further stored as chemical energy in fiber-shaped supercapacitors. Because of the all-fiber-shaped structure of the entire system, our proposed hybridized self-charging textile system can be easily woven into electronic textiles to fabricate smart clothes to sustainably operate mobile or wearable electronics.

Concepts: Energy, Light, Sun, Kinetic energy, Solar cell, Energy conversion, Capacitor, Textile


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


We describe the development of solar water-splitting cells comprising earth-abundant elements that operate in near-neutral pH conditions, both with and without connecting wires. The cells consist of a triple junction, amorphous silicon photovoltaic interfaced to hydrogen- and oxygen-evolving catalysts made from an alloy of earth-abundant metals and a cobalt|borate catalyst, respectively. The devices described here carry out the solar-driven water-splitting reaction at efficiencies of 4.7% for a wired configuration and 2.5% for a wireless configuration when illuminated with 1 sun (100 milliwatts per square centimeter) of air mass 1.5 simulated sunlight. Fuel-forming catalysts interfaced with light-harvesting semiconductors afford a pathway to direct solar-to-fuels conversion that captures many of the basic functional elements of a leaf.

Concepts: Ultraviolet, Chemical reaction, Sun, Hydrogen, Solid, Solar cell, Germanium, Amorphous silicon


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


We illustrate the important trade-off between far-field scattering effects, which have the potential to provide increased optical path length over broad bands, and parasitic absorption due to the excitation of localized surface plasmon resonances in metal nanoparticle arrays. Via detailed comparison of photocurrent enhancements given by Au, Ag and Al nanostructures on thin-film GaAs devices we reveal that parasitic losses can be mitigated through a careful choice of scattering medium. Absorption at the plasmon resonance in Au and Ag structures occurs in the visible spectrum, impairing device performance. In contrast, exploiting Al nanoparticle arrays results in a blue shift of the resonance, enabling the first demonstration of truly broadband plasmon enhanced photocurrent and a 22% integrated efficiency enhancement.

Concepts: Nanoparticle, Nanotechnology, Gold, Solar cell, Surface plasmon resonance, Plasmon, Plasma oscillation, Waves in plasmas


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