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Atom-thick PV sheets improve solar cells

Posted: 28 Jun 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:solar cell? conversion efficiency? graphene? molybdenum disulfide? photovoltaic?

A team of researchers has gone beyond increasing the energy conversion efficiency of solar cells or reducing manufacturing costs. Now, they are trying to develop the thinnest and most lightweight solar panels possible.

Such panels, which have the potential to surpass any substance other than reactor-grade uranium in terms of energy produced per pound of material, could be made from stacked sheets of one-molecule-thick materials such as graphene or molybdenum disulfide.

Jeffrey Grossman, the Carl Richard Soderberg Associate Professor of Power Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), said the new approach "pushes towards the ultimate power conversion possible from a material" for solar power. Grossman is the senior author of a new paper describing this approach.

Graphene and molybdenum disulphide sheets

Figure 1: Graphene and molybdenum disulphide sheets together are thousands of times thinner than conventional silicon solar cells.

Although scientists have devoted considerable attention in recent years to the potential of 2D materials such as graphene, Grossman said, there has been little study of their potential for solar applications. It turns out, he continued, "they're not only OK, but it's amazing how well they do."

Using two layers of such atom-thick materials, Grossman said, his team has predicted solar cells with 1-2 per cent efficiency in converting sunlight to electricity, That's low compared to the 15-20 per cent efficiency of standard silicon solar cells, he noted, but it's achieved using material that is thousands of times thinner and lighter than tissue paper. The two-layer solar cell is only 1nm thick, while typical silicon solar cells can be hundreds of thousands of times that. The stacking of several of these 2D layers could boost the efficiency significantly.

"Stacking a few layers could allow for higher efficiency, one that competes with other well-established solar cell technologies," indicated Marco Bernardi, a postdoc in MIT's department of materials science who is the lead author of the paper. Maurizia Palummo, a senior researcher at the University of Rome visiting MIT through the MISTI Italy programme, was also a co-author.


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