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Guiding future research on ‘extraordinary potential’ of next-generation solar cells

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Guiding future research on ‘extraordinary potential’ of next-generation solar cells


Guiding future research on ‘extraordinary potential’ of next-generation solar cells

by Staff Writers for TsinghuaU News

Beijing, China (SPX) Mar 04, 2024






Today’s commercial solar panels can convert about 15% to 20% of the sunlight they absorb into electrical energy – but they could be much more efficient, according to researchers at Soochow University. The next generation of solar cells has already demonstrated 26.1% efficiency, they said, but more specific research directions are needed to make such efficiency the standard and expand beyond it.

They published their review of the current state of research on high-efficiency perovskite solar cells and their recommendations for future work in Energy Materials and Devices on February 4.



“Metal halide perovskite solar cells are a new type of high-performance solar cell,” said first author Fengren Cao, researcher in Soochow University’s School of Physical Science and Technology. “They exhibit excellent photoelectric properties and have the potential for high efficiency and low cost, making them a promising candidate for future solar energy applications.”



The metal halide perovskite in these solar cells is a calcium titanium oxide-like organic material that operates as a light-absorbing semiconductor to capture incidental sunlight and convert it to energy.



“Perovskite solar cells offer high efficiency, exceeding 26% in laboratory conditions; low cost, using relatively inexpensive materials and simple manufacturing processes; flexibility, as they can be made on flexible substrates – such as plastic or metal foils – enabling the development of lightweight, flexible photovoltaic devices; and they can be scaled up to larger sizes,” Cao said. “They have extraordinary potential as the next generation of photovoltaic technology.”



However, Cao noted, only a few research teams have developed perovskite solar cells capable of 25% efficiency or more.



“Over the past years, many strategies have been adopted to improve the efficiency of perovskite solar cells,” Cao said. “But achieving more than 25% efficiency is not yet common. As such, in this paper, we summarize recent developments in high-efficiency perovskite solar cells and highlight their effective strategies in crystal regulation, interface passivation and structural design of component layers.”



These strategies could effectively address the main causes of low efficiency, which are preparation process-induced defects and an unsuitable band structure, according to Cao. The band structure refers to the energy levels of electrons in the material: Too low and the cell cannot properly or efficiently convert sunlight into energy, too high and the cell faces the same issue.



Cao also noted that other types of solar cells could be combined to construct “tandem solar cells” that could work together to break efficiency limits of a single type of solar cell. In addition, Cao said, fabrication methods for larger components need to be optimized to achieve the same efficiencies as the methods to fabricate small areas less than a 10th of a square centimeter.



“We believe that perovskite solar cells are one class of the most promising solar cells, and these efforts will ensure they can be commercialized and industrialized in the future,” Cao said, explaining that additional research would also address such challenges as tolerance to defects and issues related to stability. “The future of perovskite solar cells is incredibly exciting, and the potential for further advancements is vast.”



Research Report:Perovskite solar cells with high-efficiency exceeding 25%: a review


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Project receives funding for advanced solar-thermal research

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Project receives funding for advanced solar-thermal research


Project receives funding for advanced solar-thermal research

by Sophie Jenkins

London, UK (SPX) Apr 12, 2024






The University of Surrey, leading a collaboration with the University of Bristol and Northumbria University, has received a GBP 1.1 million grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to develop solar-thermal devices. These devices aim to revolutionize the way we heat homes and generate power, differing from traditional solar cells by converting sunlight into heat for energy production.

The research focuses on creating surfaces that selectively absorb sunlight and emit heat through near-infrared radiation. This project leverages the combined expertise of the institutions in photonics, advanced materials, applied electromagnetics, and nanofabrication to address a global need for efficient solar energy utilization.



Professor Marian Florescu, Principal Investigator from Surrey, highlighted the importance of the project: “The sun provides an immense amount of energy daily, much more than we currently harness. By advancing these solar-absorbing surfaces, we aim to transform solar energy use into a sustainable powerhouse for our increasing energy needs.”



Goals of the project include developing high-temperature solar absorbers, enhancing the efficiency of solar-absorbing structures, and improving the management of heat generated from sunlight. Prototypes will be constructed to demonstrate these technologies.



Professor Marin Cryan, Co-Principal Investigator from the University of Bristol, explained their focus on thermionic solar cell technology, which uses concentrated sunlight to initiate electron emission for high-efficiency solar cells.



Dr. Daniel Ho, Co-Principal Investigator from Northumbria University, added: “Our university leads in thermophotovoltaic research, utilizing advanced thermal analysis techniques. We’re excited to contribute to groundbreaking developments in renewable energy.”


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Improving Solar and Wind Power Integration in the U.S. Grid

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Improving Solar and Wind Power Integration in the U.S. Grid


Improving Solar and Wind Power Integration in the U.S. Grid

by Clarence Oxford

Los Angeles CA (SPX) Apr 11, 2024






The Midcontinent Independent System Operator manages a high-voltage electricity network spanning from Manitoba to Louisiana, serving 45 million users. This vast operation requires maintaining a balance between the energy generated and the demand across its regions.

The traditional reliance on coal and natural gas power plants is changing. For example, wind farms in Iowa now generate over 64% of the state’s electricity, and recent initiatives like the Alliant Energy Solar Farm at Iowa State University represent the shift towards renewable energy sources. These sources, however, introduce variability and uncertainty into grid management.



Zhaoyu Wang, a Northrop Grumman associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Iowa State, emphasized, The power system seeks certainty which is challenging with unpredictable natural resources like sun and wind.



Wang is leading the MODERNISE project, aimed at modernizing grid operations. The U.S. Department of Energy has earmarked a $3 million grant over three years for this initiative, with an additional $1.1 million coming from project collaborators including Argonne National Laboratory and Siemens Corp.



The project, titled Modernizing Operation and Decision-Making Tools Enabling Resource Management in Stochastic Environment, involves developing computational tools that allow for better integration and management of renewable energy sources into the grid.



Jennifer M. Granholm, U.S. Secretary of Energy, supported this initiative stating that effective integration of renewable resources is essential for deploying clean energy. The project is part of a larger $34 million investment by the DOE to develop technologies that enhance grid reliability and efficiency.



By aggregating smaller renewable energy resources into larger operational blocks, MODERNISE aims to improve grid stability and predictability. Bai Cui, project co-leader and assistant professor at Iowa State, explained that this approach allows operators to manage grid operations more effectively by understanding and handling the uncertainties of renewable supply sources.



This initiative promises to make grid operations more adaptable and efficient, critical for accommodating the increasing reliance on renewable energy.


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Quantum Material Achieves Up to 190% Efficiency in Solar Cells

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Quantum Material Achieves Up to 190% Efficiency in Solar Cells


Quantum Material Achieves Up to 190% Efficiency in Solar Cells

by Clarence Oxford

Los Angeles CA (SPX) Apr 11, 2024






Researchers from Lehigh University have developed a material that significantly enhances the efficiency of solar panels.

A prototype incorporating this material as the active layer in a solar cell displays an average photovoltaic absorption rate of 80%, a high rate of photoexcited carrier generation, and an external quantum efficiency (EQE) reaching up to 190%. This figure surpasses the theoretical Shockley-Queisser efficiency limit for silicon-based materials, advancing the field of quantum materials for photovoltaics.



This work signifies a major advance in sustainable energy solutions, according to Chinedu Ekuma, professor of physics at Lehigh. He and Lehigh doctoral student Srihari Kastuar recently published their findings in the journal Science Advances. Ekuma highlighted the innovative approaches that could soon redefine solar energy efficiency and accessibility.



The material’s significant efficiency improvement is largely due to its unique intermediate band states, which are energy levels within the material’s electronic structure that are ideally positioned for solar energy conversion.



These states have energy levels in the optimal subband gaps-energy ranges capable of efficiently absorbing sunlight and producing charge carriers-between 0.78 and 1.26 electron volts.



Moreover, the material excels in absorbing high levels in the infrared and visible regions of the electromagnetic spectrum.



In traditional solar cells, the maximum EQE is 100%, which corresponds to the generation and collection of one electron for each photon absorbed. However, newer materials and configurations can generate and collect more than one electron per high-energy photon, achieving an EQE over 100%.



Multiple Exciton Generation (MEG) materials, though not yet widely commercialized, show immense potential for enhancing solar power system efficiency. The Lehigh-developed material utilizes intermediate band states to capture photon energy typically lost in traditional cells, including energy lost through reflection and heat production.



The research team created this novel material using van der Waals gaps, atomically small spaces between layered two-dimensional materials, to confine molecules or ions. Specifically, they inserted zerovalent copper atoms between layers of germanium selenide (GeSe) and tin sulfide (SnS).



Ekuma developed the prototype based on extensive computer modeling that indicated the system’s theoretical potential. Its rapid response and enhanced efficiency strongly indicate the potential of Cu-intercalated GeSe/SnS as a quantum material for advanced photovoltaic applications, offering a path for efficiency improvements in solar energy conversion, he stated.



While the integration of this quantum material into existing solar energy systems requires further research, the techniques used to create these materials are already highly advanced, with scientists mastering precise methods for inserting atoms, ions, and molecules.



Research Report:Chemically Tuned Intermediate Band States in Atomically Thin CuxGeSe/SnS Quantum Material for Photovoltaic Applications


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