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‘Inverse opal’ structure improves thin-film solar cells

Posted on January 15, 2014
'Inverse opal' structure improves thin-film solar cells

The illustrations at the top (steps A through D) depict the creation of 3-D “photonic crystals” to improve the efficiency of thin-film solar cells, a technology that could bring low-cost solar energy. The “inverse opal” structure is formed by treating the crystals with hydrofluoric acid (d). Scanning electron microscope images show its small-scale crystal structure from three different angles (e and g), and a photograph (h) shows how the same membrane can be wrapped around a glass pipette. Credit: Purdue University/ Leo Tom Varghese
Researchers have shown how to increase the efficiency of thin-film solar cells, a technology that could bring low-cost solar energy. The approach uses 3-D “photonic crystals” to absorb more sunlight than conventional thin-film cells.

The synthetic crystals possess a structure called an “inverse opal” to make use of and enhance properties found in the gemstones to reflect, diffract and bend incoming sunlight.

“Usually, in thin-film silicon solar cells much of the sunlight comes right back out, but using our approach the light comes in and it is diffracted, causing it to propagate in a parallel path within the film,” said Peter Bermel, an assistant professor in Purdue University’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Birck Nanotechnology Center.

Compared to solar cells made of silicon wafers, cost is reduced 100 times for the thin films. However, they are less efficient.

“The question is, can we make up that lower efficiency by introducing new approaches to light trapping for thin film solar cells?” Bermel said. “Can we combine low cost and high performance?”

Read more at: Phys.org

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