University of Queensland team makes solar technology breakthrough

Photo: University of Queensland

University of Queensland researchers have made a breakthrough in the development of a solar power technology that can be made into thin, flexible films and used to generate electricity even in low-light conditions, for example, for cars, planes, and homes.

UQ researchers have set a world record for the conversion of solar energy to electricity via the use of tiny nanoparticles called ‘quantum dots’, which generate electrical current when exposed to solar energy in a solar cell device and have the potential to be used as a flexible ‘skin’ over hard surfaces.

The development represents a significant step towards making the technology commercially viable and supporting global renewable energy targets.

Professor Lianzhou Wang, who led the breakthrough, said conventional solar technologies used rigid, expensive materials.

“The new class of quantum dots the University has developed are flexible and printable,” Wang said.

“This opens up a huge range of potential applications, including the possibility to use it as a transparent skin to power cars, planes, homes and wearable technology.”

The team set the world record for quantum dot solar cell efficiency by developing a unique surface engineering strategy which overcame previous challenges around the fact that the surface of quantum dots tend to be rough and unstable – making them less efficient at converting solar into electrical current.

“This new generation of quantum dots is compatible with more affordable and large-scale printable technologies,” Wang said.

“The near 25 per cent improvement in efficiency we have achieved over the previous world record is important. It is effectively the difference between quantum dot solar cell technology being an exciting ‘prospect’ and being commercially viable.”