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Future looks bright for carbon nanotube solar cells

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Posted June 19, 2013
Materials Science and Engineering Assistant Professor Michael Arnold. Credit: David Nevala.

Materials Science and Engineering Assistant Professor Michael Arnold. Credit: David Nevala.

In an approach that could challenge silicon as the predominant photovoltaic cell material, University of Wisconsin-Madison materials engineers have developed an inexpensive solar cell that exploits carbon nanotubes to absorb and convert energy from the sun.

The advance could lead to solar panels just as efficient, but much less expensive to manufacture, than current panels.

The proof-of-concept carbon nanotube solar cell can convert nearly 75 percent of the light it absorbs into electricity, says Michael Arnold, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at UW-Madison and a pioneer in developing carbon nanotube-based materials for solar energy applications. “We’ve made a really fundamental key step in demonstrating that it will be possible to use these new carbon nanotube materials for solar cells one day,” he says.

Arnold and PhD student Matthew Shea described the development in a paper published June 17, 2013, in the online edition of the journal Applied Physics Letters.

Silicon is abundant and an efficient solar energy gatherer, yet is expensive to process and manufacture into solar panels. As a result, researchers are studying alternative materials—among them, carbon nanotubes.

Recent advances have afforded researchers a greater level of control over the chemical makeup of carbon nanotubes, which in turn has opened the door to myriad applications. The thin spaghetti-like tubes are easy and inexpensive to manufacture, stable and durable, and are both good light absorbers and electrical conductors.

Read more at: Phys.org

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