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30 April 2013

UK’s Salford University to design quantum dots for third-generation solar cells

The University of Salford is to conduct theoretical work on third-generation solar cells, which aim to use to semiconductor nanostructures to significantly increase the electricity produced by sunlight – from about 10% efficiency to 31% or more.

Professor Stanko Tomic and his team at the University of Salford’s School of Computing, Science & Engineering will design the semiconductor quantum dots, which have the ability to substantially reduce the energy losses present in conventional silicon solar cells.

The conversion of extra energy, which would otherwise be lost in the form of panel heat, into electricity is key to increasing solar cell efficiency and reducing cost, the researchers say. Conventional solar cells convert 10-20% of light into electricity – the new cells should increase this to as much as 31% or even higher.

Tomic and his team will use methods of computational physics (combining quantum mechanics and numerical algorithms), together with supercomputers, to describe the structure of the materials, in order to design new solar cell devices.

The quantum dots will be fabricated at the University of Manchester and the University of Tokyo using materials including cadmium selenide (CdSe), indium arsenide (InAs), and gallium arsenide (GaAs).
The research is funded by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Royal Society, London (among others).

Currently, though prices are falling, solar generation is more expensive than traditional fossil-fuel generation. The researchers say that, once this technology reaches efficiencies that can be mass-produced, the gap will diminish and possibly disappear, and more energy can be generated from fewer cells covering less space. This would suit densely populated urban areas, which currently receive electricity through inefficient long-distances power grids.

“Governments around the world are keen to pursue this technology, but in the UK we have one of the few teams able to create working cells,” reckons Tomic. “While the high-efficiency solar cells possibly represent the energy source of the second half of the century, the work we’re doing now is of utmost importance as we seek to limit carbon emissions.”

Tags: QD solar cell


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