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Quantum physics could boost III-V solar cell efficiency

Apr 30, 2013
InAs (indium arsenide), GaAs (gallium arsenide) and CdSe (cadmium selenide) will be some of the materials used to produce quantum dots in proposed solar cell research
The University of Salford is to conduct theoretical work on third generation solar cells.

Researchers aim to use semiconductor nanostructures in order to significantly increase the electricity produced by sunlight – from around 10 percent efficiency to 31 percent or more.

Solar Panels

Stanko Tomic, a professor from the University of Salford’s School of Computing, Science & Engineering and his team will be designing the semiconductor quantum dots. They aim to substantially reduce the energy losses present in conventional silicon solar cells.

The conversion of extra energy, which would otherwise be lost in the form of panel heat, into electricity is a major key in increasing solar cell efficiency and reducing cost.

Conventional silicon solar cells turn between 10 and 20 percent of light into electricity – the new cells will increase this to up to 31 percent or even higher.

Tomic and his team will use methods of computational physics, which combine the laws of quantum mechanics and advanced numerical algorithms, together with supercomputer power, to describe the structure of the materials, in order to design new solar cell devices.

Tomic will design the quantum dots that will be fabricated at the University of Manchester and the University of Tokyo, using, amongst other materials, CdSe, InAs and GaAs.

The impact of this research, which is funded, among others, by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, UK, and the Royal Society, London, is a significant development in the de-carbonising of energy supplies.

Currently, though prices are falling. Solar generation is more expensive than traditional fossil fuel generation.

Once this technology reaches efficiencies that can be mass-produced, the gap will diminish and possibly disappear, and more energy will be generated from fewer cells covering less space.

This, the researchers believe, makes them ideal for densely populated urban areas, which currently receive electricity through inefficient long distances power grids.

Tomic says, “Governments around the world are keen to pursue this technology, but in the UK we have one of the few teams able to create working cells. While the high efficiency solar cells possibly represent the energy source of the second half of the century, the work we’re doing now is of utmost importance as we seek to limit carbon emissions.”

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