Nanoparticle-based solar cell breakthrough could cut cost of solar energy

Materials that are readily available can be used to make inexpensive and easily manufactured nanoparticle-based solar cells.

As reported by the University of Alberta, researchers at the Canadian university say that phosphorus and zinc, two abundant and easily accessible elements from the earth’s crust can be used to manufacture the cells.

The research team, led by Jillian Buriak, a chemistry professor and senior research officer of the National Institute for Nanotechnology based on the U of A campus, has designed nanoparticles that absorb light and conduct electricity.

Phosphorus and zinc are much more abundant than materials that were previously used such as cadmium. In addition, they are free from manufacturing restrictions imposed on lead-based nanoparticles.

According to Buriak, the discovery has the potential to make solar energy cheaper and more viable for regions that are off the traditional electricity grid or face high power costs.

“Half the world already lives off the grid, and with demand for electrical power expected to double by the year 2050, it is important that renewable energy sources like solar power are made more affordable by lowering the costs of manufacturing,” Buriak said.

The team was able to develop a synthetic method to make zinc phosphide nanoparticles, and demonstrated that the particles can be dissolved to form an ink and processed to make thin films that are responsive to light.

As a next step, the team is now experimenting with the nanoparticles. The experiments involve spray-coating them onto large solar cells to test their efficiency. 

The research was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and is published in the latest issue of ACS Nano.

Image: University of Alberta

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