In a standard dye sensitized solar cell, an organic molecule adsorbed on the surface of a porous electrode absorbs light and then initiates the charge separation process eventually leading to generation of photocurrent. While the dye appears to have "sensitized" the large bandgap material, it never actually does, because only the dye molecules absorb the light and generate the carriers, the large bandgap material primarily serves the function of a conducting channel to take the electrons out. While wide bandgap materials alone can not absorb the sun light efficiently, it has been predicted that if two large bandgap materials with type-II band alignment form coaxial nanowires, the effective indirect bandgap could be substantially smaller than either of the individual materials. After a few years effort, one research team has now demonstrated a real functional device that exhibits the key feature of the idea: the use of two large bandgap materials to make a solar cell behaving like a small bandgap material.
Nanowires - particularly those of silicon - promise great potentials for high-efficiency, low-cost solar energy conversion. This promise has not yet been met by experimental evidence, raising fundamental questions whether silicon nanowires are intrinsically disadvantaged and whether the photovoltaic research community should continue working on this material. Despite intense efforts, the performance of silicon nanowire-based solar cells remains significantly lower than what has been achieved for bulk silicon or micrometer-scale wires. The gap between the predicted performance and the inability to deliver raises an important question with regard to the origin of this problem. New research shows that the poor performance is not a result of the nanowire morphology, but is intrinsic to the growth chemistry.
There is an increasing interest in flexible solar cells and researchers have been investigating weavable fiber solar cells based on metal wires, glass fibers, or polymer fibers. Unfortunately, the low efficiencies of these fiber-based solar cells greatly limit their promising applications. In order to improve these efficiencies, scientists are exploring various nanomaterials to improve charge separation and transport in these fiber-based photovoltaic devices. One recent promising result has been demonstrated by a research team in China who have developed a novel solar cell from flexible, light-weight, ultrastrong, and semiconductive carbon nanotube fiber. The high alignment of building nanotubes in the fiber allows charges to separate and transport along the fibers efficiently, which provides a fiber solar cell with high performance.
A key hurdle in realizing high-efficiency, cost-effective solar energy technology is the low efficiency of current power cells. In order to achieve maximum efficiency when converting solar power into electricity, ideally you need a solar panel that can absorb nearly every single photon of light - across the entire spectrum of sunlight and regardless of the sun's position in the sky. One way to achieve suppression of sunlight's reflection over a broad spectral range is by using nanotextured surfaces that form a graded transition of the refractive index from air to the substrate. Researchers in Finland have now demonstrated a scalable, high-throughput fabrication method for such non-reflecting nanostructured surfaces.
Spin coating has been the dominant fabrication method for polymer electronics. However, it is not a high-throughput process and numerous research groups are trying to find a scalable fabrication method for polymer solar cells. One such method, spray coating, is capable of delivering large-area, uniform polymer thin films through a relatively simple process, while offering ample processing possibilities of engineering the film structure. Spray-coating is a high-rate, large-area deposition technique that ensures an ideal coating on a variety of surfaces with different morphologies and topographies. It is frequently used for industrial coating and in-line deposition processes. In spray-coating systems, the ink is atomized at the nozzle by pressure or ultrasound and then directed toward the substrate by a gas. An added advantage of spray-coating is that it is efficient: compared to other techniques only a small amount of the solutions are wasted.
Solar cells that convert sunlight to electric power traditionally have been dominated by solid state junction devices, often made of silicon wafers. Thanks to nanotechnology, this silicon-based production technology has been challenged by the development of a new generation of solar cells based on thin film materials, nanocrystalline materials and conducting polymeric films. These offer the prospects of cheaper materials, higher efficiency and flexible features. Thanks to a highly efficient polymer solar cell fabrication method by a novel coating process - roller painting - even the mass production of polymer solar cells is now within reach. A particular advantage of roller painting compared to other coating processes is ease of control of the film thickness and uniformity.
Previous studies have revealed that single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) strongly absorb light, especially in the near-infrared region, and convert it into heat. There even has been a report that fluffy SWCNTs can burst into flames when exposed to a camera flash, which means the local temperature has reached 600-700C. This effect has already been used to develop effective CNT-based cancer killers or extremely dark materials. In a new twist, researchers in China have now discovered that SWCNT buckypapers have a large Seebeck coefficient, indicating a strong capability to convert heat into electricity. Based on this, they have designed an opto-electronic power source which converts the incident light into electricity. While this has been discussed as a theoretical mechanism, the team at Tsinghua University in Beijing has actually fabricated an integrated device that outputs a macroscopic voltage, moving forward towards practical applications.
'Smart' windows, or smart glass, refers to glass technology that includes electrochromic devices, suspended particle devices, micro-blinds and liquid crystal devices. Their major feature is that they can control the amount of light passing through the glass and increase energy efficiency of the room by reducing costs for heating or air-conditioning. In the case of self-powered smart windows the glass even generates the energy needed to electrically switch its transparency. A new type of smart window proposed by researchers in The Netherlands makes use of a luminescent dye-doped liquid-crystal solution sandwiched in between electrically conductive plates as an energy-generating window.