Engineers Design and Test a New Class of Solar-Sensitive Nanoparticles

Engineers Design a New Class of Solar Sensitive Nanoparticles

A diagram of quantum dot. Credit: University of Toronto

University of Toronto researchers have designed and tested a new form of solid, stable light-sensitive nanoparticles that could lead to cheaper and more flexible solar cells.

Think those flat, glassy solar panels on your neighbor’s roof are the pinnacle of solar technology? Think again.

Researchers in the University of Toronto’s Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering have designed and tested a new class of solar-sensitive nanoparticle that outshines what we currently consider state of the art.

This new form of solid, stable light-sensitive nanoparticles, called colloidal quantum dots, could lead to cheaper and more flexible solar cells, as well as better gas sensors, infrared lasers, infrared light emitting diodes, and more. The research, led by post-doctoral fellow Zhijun Ning (ECE) and Professor Ted Sargent (ECE), was published this week in Nature Materials.

Collecting sunlight using these tiny colloidal quantum dots depends on two types of semiconductors: n-type, which are rich in electrons; and p-type, which are poor in electrons. The problem? When exposed to air, n-type materials bind to oxygen atoms, give up their electrons, and turn into p-type. Ning and colleagues modeled and demonstrated a new colloidal quantum dot n-type material that does not bind oxygen when exposed to air.

Maintaining stable n- and p-type layers simultaneously not only boosts the efficiency of light absorption, it opens up a world of new optoelectronic devices that capitalize on the best properties of both light and electricity. For you and me, this means more sophisticated weather satellites, remote controllers, satellite communication, or pollution detectors.

“This is a material innovation, that’s the first part, and with this new material we can build new device structures,” said Ning. “Iodide is almost a perfect atom for these quantum solar cells to bond with, having both high efficiency and air stability—no one has shown that before.”

Ning’s new hybrid n- and p-type material achieved solar power conversion efficiency up to eight percent—among the best results reported to date.

But improved performance is just a start for this new quantum-dot-based solar cell architecture. The powerful little dots could be mixed into inks and painted or printed onto thin, flexible surfaces, such as roofing shingles, dramatically lowering the cost and accessibility of solar power for millions of people.

“The field of colloidal quantum dot photovoltaics requires continued improvement in absolute performance, or power conversion efficiency,” said Sargent. “The field has moved fast, and keeps moving fast, but we need to work toward bringing performance to commercially compelling levels.”

This research was conducted in collaboration with Dalhousie University, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, and Huazhong University of Science and Technology.

Reference: “Air-stable n-type colloidal quantum dot solids” by Zhijun Ning, Oleksandr Voznyy, Jun Pan, Sjoerd Hoogland, Valerio Adinolfi, Jixian Xu, Min Li, Ahmad R. Kirmani, Jon-Paul Sun, James Minor, Kyle W. Kemp, Haopeng Dong, Lisa Rollny, André Labelle, Graham Carey, Brandon Sutherland, Ian Hill, Aram Amassian, Huan Liu, Jiang Tang, Osman M. Bakr and Edward H. Sargent, 8 June 2014, Nature Materials.
DOI: 10.1038/nmat4007

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