CleanTechnica is the #1 cleantech-focused
website
 in the world.


Clean Power ultra thin light solar cells

Published on June 28th, 2013 | by James Ayre

10

Ultra-Thin Solar Cells 1000 Times More Powerful Than Conventional PV Per Pound



This article first appeared on Solar Love.

The general drive in the solar energy technology industry has been towards the development of higher solar cell efficiencies and lowered manufacturing costs, but are there other avenues of improvement worth exploring? Such as the development of ultra-thin, ultra-lightweight solar cells? That’s exactly what new research from MIT is suggesting — that the development of extremely thin, lightweight solar cells has the potential to completely revolutionize the industry.

"The MIT team found that an effective solar cell could be made from a stack of two one-molecule-thick materials: Graphene (a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms, shown at bottom in blue) and molybdenum disulfide (above, with molybdenum atoms shown in red and sulfur in yellow). The two sheets together are thousands of times thinner than conventional silicon solar cells." Image Credit: Jeffrey Grossman and Marco Bernardi

“The MIT team found that an effective solar cell could be made from a stack of two one-molecule-thick materials: Graphene (a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms, shown at bottom in blue) and molybdenum disulfide (above, with molybdenum atoms shown in red and sulfur in yellow). The two sheets together are thousands of times thinner than conventional silicon solar cells.”
Image Credit: Jeffrey Grossman and Marco Bernardi

Such extremely thin and lightweight solar cells have the potential to greatly surpass “any substance other than reactor-grade uranium” with regard to the energy produced per pound of material. According to the researchers, such solar cells could be created by utilizing stacked sheets of one-molecule-thick materials such as graphene or molybdenum disulfide.

The new approach “pushes towards the ultimate power conversion possible from a material” with regard to solar energy,” according to Jeffrey Grossman, the Carl Richard Soderberg Associate Professor of Power Engineering at MIT, and senior author of the new study.



The researchers say that even utilizing just a single bilayer of two-dimensional materials — such as graphene, molybdenum disulfide, molybdenum diselenide, etc — it’s possible to create solar cells with efficiencies of 1-2%. While that may not sound like much at first when compared to conventional solar cells, when you consider the resources, time, and materials that go into making conventional solar cells (as well as the space they take up and their weight) and compare that to a solar cell that is thousands of times lighter, uses considerably less material, and is lighter than tissue paper… the appeal of the technology becomes obvious. As of now, the two-layer solar cell design is about 1 nanometer thick — hundreds of thousands of times thinner than a conventional silicon solar cell.

Potential applications in the aviation and space industries immediately come to mind — or really anywhere weight is a significant factor.

It’s worth noting that by stacking together more than just two layers of the two-dimensional materials that the efficiency could likely be raised significantly.

“Stacking a few layers could allow for higher efficiency, one that competes with other well-established solar cell technologies,” says Marco Bernardi, a postdoc in MIT’s Department of Materials Science, and lead author of the research paper.

“Pound for pound the new solar cells produce up to 1,000 times more power than conventional photovoltaics. At about one nanometer (billionth of a meter) in thickness, it’s 20 to 50 times thinner than the thinnest solar cell that can be made today,” Grossman adds. “You couldn’t make a solar cell any thinner.”

“In addition, the material itself is much less expensive than the highly purified silicon used for standard solar cells — and because the sheets are so thin, they require only minuscule amounts of the raw materials.” And the material itself is also very robust, even in open air — “it’s essentially stable in air, under ultraviolet light, and in moisture,” Grossman states.

While all of this already looks very promising, there’s actually still a great deal of unexplored potential, as the materials used — molybdenum disulfide and molybdenum diselenide — are just two in a universe of 2-D materials. “There’s a whole zoo of these materials that can be explored,” Grossman states. “My hope is that this work sets the stage for people to think about these materials in a new way.”

As is nearly always the case with this type of research, though, there are still roadblocks to be passed before this technology can be widely used — as of now, there are no methods for the large-scale production of molybdenum disulfide and molybdenum diselenide.

The researchers will now be working on the development of a prototype of the solar cell.

The new research was just published in the journal Nano Letters.

Print Friendly

Tags: , , , , , , , ,


About the Author

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.



  • James Meade

    Does anyone out there know how toxic and carcinogenic molybdenum is? Proliferated the environment with it is probably not a good idea.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Molybdenum disulfide is a common dry lubricant.

      How worried are you about the sodium in table salt?

      How about the highly flammable hydrogen in water?

      • Brent

        Precisely, I got Dow Z power in my garage, no problems.

  • Brent

    So much of the nano scale end up left as concepts, I say you graphene some solar sails or possibly send like 1,000 pounds worth of material and a 3D printer covering a large piece of the moon for a base or power to beam back. If only they could make it 2 aerosol can sprayable layers. Even with the great material to efficiency ratio you’re looking at a lot of line to run the power itself as well as a lack of yet noted weathering and damage protection. I think we just need a big leap in the CZTS(15%+) efficiency and manufacturing process coupled with Spin cell cooling and concentrators. Or maybe, if someone would catch up and invent some plasma distribution engines, mercury base frequency resonance generators, or even a simple perpetutating generator.. Step 1 people, realize and document the known near infinite forces, Gravity, magnetism, static build, density distribution(floating/sinking, hot/cold,thermal expansion), atmospheric/oceanic pressure.. ect. They keep looking for answers in the same places, no surprise they find none. I would throw them a bone but it just doesn’t feel right. I see how those not wise enough to create the power misuse it, I won’t be that guy. If you’re reading this, give that near infinite force fuzion some thought, I’ll let you be that guy. I folded by Royal flush a bit ago thinking maybe this species when weighed by it’s actions is unfit to advance and spread, too many chimpStincts still. This might not occur to many but have you thought maybe we alrdy have the answers, like we do to cancers cure/causes, the energy/storage patents bought up oil/coal.. If you do choose to be ‘that guy’ you better show every media outlet at once in an unknown unscheduled surprise, or you’ll just end up in a cage or box before it happens.

  • Marion Meads

    if the efficiency is just around 1-2%, you would use 20 times more surface area for sunlight interception, it would be a lot better to cultivate plants as source for food, and the remaining biomass as fuel for power plants.

    Efficiency must be at least 5% to be really worthwhile, and the price per watt down to a few pennies per watt.

    • https://www.facebook.com/daniel.laliberte Daniel LaLiberte

      Create more surface area by folding. Light goes in, bounces around until it gets absorbed. However, this doesn’t work so well if the remaining energy is converted to heat instead of being reflected or transmitted through.

    • vetxcl

      “While that may not sound like much at first when compared to conventional solar cells, when you consider the resources, time, and materials that go into making conventional solar cells (as well as the space they take up and their weight) and compare that to a solar cell that is thousands of times lighter, uses considerably less material, and is lighter than tissue paper… the appeal of the technology becomes obvious. As of now, the two-layer solar cell design is about 1 nanometer thick — hundreds of thousands of times thinner than a conventional silicon solar cell.”
      Read more at http://cleantechnica.com/2013/06/28/ultra-thin-solar-cells-1000-times-more-powerful-than-conventional-pv-per-pound/#xEip5mQEEtBxdDBO.99

    • Grant

      We have plenty of surface area, don’t make the same mistake as this plonker “David MacKay FRS: Sustainable Energy – without the hot air” and completely forget to consider deep sea floating solar mats/arrays

  • JMin2020

    Thanks for the post Zach. This is one of the biggest breakthroughs in PV Technology since the field of technology began. I read the origional orticle from the Lab and this will definitely make a huge difference in Solar Power Production.

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      It’s hard for me to tell. But if these guys can work out manufacturing, it sounds promising. :D

Back to Top ↑