Researchers Extract More Energy From Sunlight – Could Boost the Efficiency of Solar Panels by 50%

Tandem Solar Panel Layered Structure

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A schematic revealing the layered structure of a tandem photovoltaic panel. Credit: Graphic courtesy Minjing Kim

Researchers working to take full advantage of photovoltaic panel performance stated layering sophisticated products atop conventional silicon is an appealing course to eke more energy out of sunshine. A brand-new research study reveals that by utilizing an exactly managed fabrication procedure, scientists can produce multilayered photovoltaic panels with the possible to be 1.5 times more effective than conventional silicon panels.

The outcomes of the research study led by University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign engineer Minjoo Larry Lee are released in the journal Cell Reports Physical Sciences.

“Silicon solar panels are prevalent because they are affordable and can convert a little over 20% of the sun’s light into usable electricity,” stated Lee, a teacher of electrical and computer system engineering and Holonyak Micro and Nanotechnology Lab affiliate. “However, just like silicon computer chips, silicon solar cells are reaching the limit of their abilities, so finding a way to increase efficiency is attractive to energy providers and consumers.”

Larry Lee

Silicon photovoltaic panels are reaching their technological limitation, however scientists are exploring by integrating silicon with other products to squeeze more energy out of sunshine. Electrical and computer system engineering teacher Larry Lee led a brand-new research study that might enhance the performance of customer photovoltaic panels by 50%. Credit: Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

Lee’s group has actually been working to layer the semiconductor product gallium arsenide phosphide onto silicon since the 2 products match each other. Both products soak up noticeable light highly, however gallium arsenide phosphide does so while producing less waste heat. In contrast, silicon stands out at transforming energy from the infrared part of the solar spectrum simply beyond what our eyes can see, Lee stated.

“It is like a sports team. You are going to have some fast people, some who are strong and some with great defensive skills,” he stated. “In a similar way, tandem solar cells work as a team and take advantage of the best properties of both materials to make a single, more efficient device.”

Shizhao Fan

Shizhao Fan is the lead author of a brand-new research study that might enhance the performance of customer photovoltaic panels by 50%. Credit: Photo courtesy Grainger College of Engineering at University of Illinois

While gallium arsenide phosphide and other semiconductor products like it are effective and steady, they are pricey, so making panels made up totally from them is not affordable for mass production at this time. Hence, Lee’s group utilizes affordable silicon as a beginning point for its research study.

During fabrication, product problems discover their method into the layers, especially at user interfaces in between the silicon and gallium arsenide phosphide, Lee stated. Tiny flaws form whenever products with various atomic structure are layered onto silicon, jeopardizing both efficiency and dependability.  

“Anytime you switch from one material to another, there is always a risk of creating some disorder in the transition,” Lee stated. “Shizhao Fan, the lead author of the study, developed a process for forming pristine interfaces in the gallium arsenide phosphide cell, which led to a vast improvement over our earlier work in this area.”

“Eventually, a utility company could use this technology to get 1.5 times more energy out of the same amount of land on its solar farms, or a consumer could use 1.5 times less space for rooftop panels,” he stated.

Lee stated barriers stay on the course to commercialization, however he is confident that energy companies and customers will see the worth in utilizing steady products to attain an efficiency increase. 

References: “Current-Matched III–V/Si Epitaxial Tandem Solar Cells with 25.0% Efficiency” by Shizhao Fan, Zhengshan J. Yu, Ryan D. Hool, Pankul Dhingra, WilliamWeigand, Mijung Kim, Erik D. Ratta, Brian D. Li, Yukun Sun, Zachary C. Holman and Minjoo L. Lee, 23 September 2020, Cell Reports Physical Sciences.
DOI: 10.1016/j.xcrp.2020.100208

U. of I. scientists Fan, Ryan D. Hool, Pankul Dhingra, Mijung Kim, Erik D. Ratta, Brian D. Li and Yukun Sun; and Arizona State University scientists William Weigand, Zhengshan J. Yu, and Zachary C. Holman added to this research study.

The National Science Foundation and NASA supported this research study.

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