Researchers from Australia’s Swinburne University of Technology and Suntech Power Holdings have developed the world’s most efficient broadband nanoplasmonic solar cells for use in thin-film technology. Project scientists report improving the efficiency of existing thin-film cells by up to 8.1 percent through incorporating nucleated gold and silver nanoparticles.
The team at Swinburne’s Victoria-Suntech Advanced Solar Facility (VSASF) had already been embedding conventional gold and silver nanoparticles into thin-film cells produced by Suntech. These highly reflective particles increased the wavelength of absorbed sunlight, thus improving the rate at which its photons were converted into electrons.
Senior Research Fellow at Swinburne Baohua Jia, PhD, said: “The broadband plasmonic effect is an exciting discovery of the team. It is truly a collaborative outcome between Swinburne and Suntech over the last 12 months.”
Jia believes that this new technology will have an important impact on the solar industry. “What we have found is that nanoparticles that have an uneven surface scatter light even further into a broadband wavelength range. This leads to greater absorption, and therefore improves the cell’s overall efficiency.
The scientists hope to get the efficiency up to at least 10 percent by the middle of this year, and ultimately want to “develop solar cells that are twice as efficient and run at half the cost of those currently available.”
According to Swinburne Professor Min Gu, Director of the VSASF, thin film cells have attracted enormous research interest as a cheap alternative to bulk crystalline silicon cells. However, the significantly reduced thickness of their silicon layer makes it more difficult for them to absorb sunlight.
“Light trapping technology is of paramount importance to increase the performance of thin-film solar cells and make them competitive with silicon cells,” Professor Gu said. “One of the main potential applications of the technology will be to cover conventional glass, enabling buildings and skyscrapers to be powered entirely by sunlight.”
Suntech plans on mass-producing the improved solar cells, and expects them to be commercially available by 2017.
Photo: Swinburne University of Technology