A new material enables the production of highly efficient solar panels. These nanowires are called semiconducting. When placed on top of a conventional silicon-based solar panel, the efficiency of these solar panels can be doubled at a low cost.
The material was developed by researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. “We have a new method for the very efficient use of gallium arsenide (GaAs) through the nanostructure, so that we can make solar panels more efficient using only a fraction of the materials normally used,” explains Anjan Mukherjee, Ph.D. student at the Graduate School, Anjan Mukherjee. Electronic systems at the Norwegian University.
Mukherjee is the lead developer of the new technology. Researchers call GaAs the best material for increasing the efficiency of solar cells. This is in view of its exceptional light absorption and electrical properties. The material has been used for some time to produce solar panels intended for use in space.
The fact that the material has not been extensively processed into solar panels on Earth is partly due to the costs. It is relatively expensive to produce high-quality GaAs components for solar cells. The researchers say the demand for technologies that reduce the amount of GaAs required is high.
Ten times more efficient
It appears that such technology is now available. Helge Wiemann, professor in NTNU’s Department of Electronic Systems, explains outside. A research paper from the group has been published in ACS Photonics.
An important cost component in conventional production of GaAs solar cells is the fact that they are usually “grown” on thick infrastructure and therefore relatively expensive. Researchers deviate from this. “Our method uses a vertical array of nanowire arrays on a low-cost, industry-focused nanowire growth platform,” Wiemann said.
Reduce production costs
According to the researchers, the most cost-effective and effective solution is to grow the so-called dual tandem cells using a gallium nanocell over a silicon solar cell. Therefore, the use of an expensive GaAs substrate is not necessary. “We have worked to reduce the cost of developing the highest-grossing (GaAs) nanowire cell, as the cost of manufacturing GaAs is one of the biggest challenges currently standing in the technology’s way.”
Bjorn-Ove Fimland, Professor, Department of Electronic Systems at NTNU: “The small footprint of the nanowire structure provides additional advantages, as it enables high quality in nanowire crystals and interface with silicon. This improves the performance of the solar cell.”
The researchers use a method called molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) to produce the nanowires. This method is less suitable for mass production of material. Mukherjee: “However, it is possible to mass-produce these nanowire-based solar cells using industry-wide tools such as metal-organic vapor deposition (MOCVD).”
Incorporating the product on top of a silicon solar cell can increase efficiency by up to 40%. Compared to silicon solar cells available on the market today, the approach is expected to double the efficiency.
The researchers envision more applications for their nanowires. Modification of the method is expected to allow the growth of nanowires on other substrates. According to the researchers, this opens the door to more applications. “We are exploring growing these types of lightweight nanowire structures on atomically thin 2D substrates such as graphene. This could open up huge possibilities for producing lightweight and flexible solar cells that could be used in autonomous drones, micro-satellites and other space applications, as well as Mukherjee concludes.
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Author: Wouter Hoeffnagel
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