Nanotubes to Deliver Thinner and Lighter Solar Cells

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A simple chemical process employed by a Cornell University  and DuPont research team may pave the way to thinner, lighter and more flexible transistors and solar cells. The long term goal of the project is to use nanotubes to create an economical electronics material that is just as good as silicon.

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When carbon nanotubes are grown in a lab, some are semiconducting (and suitable for use in electronics) and others are metallic. The difficulty of separating the two types of nanotubes has made commercially viable semiconducting nanotube material a costly commodity. Scientists are now using a relatively simple chemical process called ‘cyloaddition’ to produce cheaper semiconducting carbon nanotubes.

Cyloaddition uses fluorine-based molecules to either attack or convert the metal nanotubes without harming the semiconducting tubes. The procedure is inexpensive and prepares the carbon nanotubes for suspension in semiconducting ink for electronic printing purposes.

Although the work is still in the early stages, researchers believe that the breakthrough may eventually lead to nanotube use in a variety of devices including novel organic photovoltaic structures.

The most exciting aspect of this research is the flexibility and thinness of nanotube semiconducting material. The team has said that the current material is 100 times more mobile than silicone, which should allow for some extremely creative three-dimensional photovoltaic structures in the future.

Sources: | Photo Credit: Geoffrey R. Hutchinson

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