Capturing More Light with a Single Solar Cell
A semiconductor material could make solar cells three times as efficient.
- Monday, January 31, 2011
- By Kevin Bullis
Several research groups are developing semiconductor materials that harness more of the energy in sunlight, based on an idea that dates back to 1960 for changing how semiconductor materials in solar cells interact with light. But the materials used in that research tend to be very difficult to make.
Much work remains before the Lawrence Berkeley lab material could be used in a practical solar cell, but in theory it could convert nearly half of the energy in sunlight into electricity—three times as much as most single-layer (or single-junction) solar cells. Such a solar cell could also cost less than the layered (or multi-junction) solar cells currently needed to achieve high efficiencies, since it would require only one semiconductor material.
In a conventional semiconductor material, it takes a certain amount of energy to free an electron and generate electricity. Photons that have less energy—say, the photons in infrared light—don't generate electricity. And if a photon has more than the minimum—for instance a photon in energetic ultraviolet light—the extra energy is wasted as heat.