Nanoparticles reduce cost of solar cells manufacture

03 September 2013

Researchers at University of Alberta have found that phosphorus and zinc can make nanoparticle-based solar cells.

The discovery brings the accessibility of solar power closer to parts of the world that are off the traditional electricity grid, as well as to developed countries that face escalating power bills.

The research was led by Jillian Buriak, a chemistry professor and senior research officer of the National Institute for Nanotechnology, based on the University of Alberta campus, Canada. The research team designed nanoparticles that absorb light and conduct electricity from the common elements, phosphorus and zinc. Both materials are more plentiful than scarce materials such as cadmium and free from manufacturing restrictions imposed on lead-based nanoparticles.

"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.

Her team's research supports the approach of making solar cells using mass manufacturing methods like roll-to-roll printing (as with newspaper presses) or spray-coating (similar to automotive painting). Nanoparticle-based 'inks' could be used to paint or print solar cells or precise compositions.
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.

The team is experimenting with spray-coating the particles onto large solar cells to test their efficiency.

The team has applied for a provisional patent and has secured funding to enable the next step to scale-up manufacture.

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

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