Thankfully, the scientists from Lund University in Sweden helped us out a little with that question:
nanowires are made of the semiconductor material indium phosphide and work like antennae that absorb sunlight and generate power. The nanowires are assembled on surfaces of one square millimetre that each house four million nanowires. A nanowire solar cell can produce an effect per active surface unit several times greater than today’s silicon cells.
“Our findings are the first to show that it really is possible to use nanowires to manufacture solar cells,” says Magnus Borgström, a researcher in semiconductor physics and the principal author of the study which was published in the journal Science.
Nanowire research has been on the rise across the planet, gaining traction as a possible means for creating more efficient and cost-effective solar cells. The dream figure was 10% efficiency, a number previously unattained by any research facility.
Which left Lund University’s achievement of 13.8% rather astonishing and exciting.
Nanowire solar cells have not made it out of lab testing just yet, but Lund University’s researchers hope that with the recent identification of the ideal diameter for nanowires and how to synthesise them, they could be the perfect material for solar cells in sunny locations such as the southwestern US, southern Spain, and Africa.
“The right size is essential for the nanowires to absorb as many photons as possible. If they are just a few tenths of a nanometre too small their function is significantly impaired,” explains Magnus Borgström.
Now, commonly, solar cells are made from silicon, which, while cheap, is not incredibly efficient. Silicon solar cells only utilise a limited part of the sunlight that reaches them. Not so for nanowires, which work at a much higher efficiency with the same sort of materials keeping the costs low.
Nanowire research is not necessarily revolutionary, but it does come on the heels of several years worth of increasingly busy solar research and improvements. These discoveries and research initiatives are imperative if we are to move away from our fossil-fuel reliance and into a greener future.
Source: Lund University
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