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10/31/2012

The First All-Carbon Solar Cell

 
The first all carbon solar cell could have significant implications for economical renewable energy options.

Stanford University scientists have built the first solar cell made entirely of carbon.  This discovery could be a promising alternative to the expensive materials used in photovoltaic devices.  Reducing material cost of photovoltaic options could make solar and photovoltaic options a very alluring choice for facility managers and building owners worldwide.

The results are published in the Oct. 31 online edition of the journal ACS Nano.

"Carbon has the potential to deliver high performance at a low cost," says study senior author Zhenan Bao, a professor of chemical engineering at Stanford. "To the best of our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of a working solar cell that has all of the components made of carbon. This study builds on previous work done in our lab."

Unlike rigid silicon solar panels that adorn many rooftops, Stanford's thin film prototype is made of carbon materials that can be coated from solution. "Perhaps in the future we can look at alternative markets where flexible carbon solar cells are coated on the surface of buildings, on windows or on cars to generate electricity," says Bao.

The coating technique also has the potential to reduce manufacturing costs, says Stanford graduate student Michael Vosgueritchian, co-lead author of the study with postdoctoral researcher Marc Ramuz.

"Processing silicon-based solar cells requires a lot of steps," Vosgueritchian says. "But our entire device can be built using simple coating methods that don't require expensive tools and machines."

Carbon nanomaterials

The Bao group's experimental solar cell consists of a photoactive layer, which absorbs sunlight, sandwiched between two electrodes. In a typical thin film solar cell, the electrodes are made of conductive metals and indium tin oxide (ITO). "Materials like indium are scarce and becoming more expensive as the demand for solar cells, touchscreen panels and other electronic devices grows," Bao says. "Carbon, on the other hand, is low cost and Earth-abundant."

For the study, Bao and her colleagues replaced the silver and ITO used in conventional electrodes with graphene – sheets of carbon that are one atom thick –and single-walled carbon nanotubes that are 10,000 times narrower than a human hair. "Carbon nanotubes have extraordinary electrical conductivity and light-absorption properties," says Bao.

For the active layer, the scientists used material made of carbon nanotubes and "buckyballs" – soccer ball-shaped carbon molecules just one nanometer in diameter. The research team recently filed a patent for the entire device.

"Every component in our solar cell, from top to bottom, is made of carbon materials," Vosgueritchian says. "Other groups have reported making all-carbon solar cells, but they were referring to just the active layer in the middle, not the electrodes."

One drawback of the all-carbon prototype is that it primarily absorbs near-infrared wavelengths of light, contributing to a laboratory efficiency of less than 1 percent – much lower than commercially available solar cells. "We clearly have a long way to go on efficiency," Bao says. "But with better materials and better processing techniques, we expect that the efficiency will go up quite dramatically."


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04/24/2014

Explore real-time green building data through the newly launched data visualization resource from the USGBC.

04/23/2014

A key part to curbing emissions is working with local and city officials, tenants, and other groups to help make entire communities more sustainable. BOMA International shares the following strategies for greening your facility and community.

04/21/2014

Lighting fixes target the bottom line.

04/16/2014

The U.S. Army plans to start development of a solar array that will provide about 25% of the annual installation electricity requirement of Fort Huachuca, Arizona.

04/15/2014

The EPA's annual greenhouse gas emissions report is now available.

04/14/2014

Are you what some would call a “climate-change denier”? If so, you'll want to read this.

04/10/2014
Los Angeles has remained the top city for ENERGY STAR certified building since 2008, while Washington, D.C. continues to hold onto second place for the fifth consecutive year, according to a new list released by the EPA.
04/09/2014
Green construction has grown massively over a short period of time.
04/07/2014
Field demonstrations of newly proven energy-efficient technologies are yielding valuable results for the U.S. Navy, helping it meet energy goals.
04/03/2014
Building owners in Chicago now have more options when it comes to getting their building energy data verified.
04/01/2014
According to a new report from Eaton, such outages are up 15% in 2013 over 2012 and over half of those surveyed believe that downtime could have been prevented.
03/31/2014
The newly revised ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 105-2014, Standard Methods of Determining, Expressing, and Comparing Building Energy Performance and Greenhouse Gas Emissions, aims to provide a consistent method of measuring, expressing, and comparing the energy performance of buildings.
03/27/2014
Facility managers face an every expanding array of sustainability choices and challenges, but for the next generation of FMs, green practices could be second nature as sustainability literacy enters the K-12 school system.
03/25/2014
While the economic recession explains the decline in sales in 2008 and 2009, it is much less clear why sales have continued to fall.
03/24/2014
University of Washington (UW) scientists have built the thinnest known LED that can be used as a source of light energy in electronics.
03/21/2014
Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed Senate Bill 2378 into law, effectively enacting the state’s first building code.
03/19/2014
In an attempt to improve building energy performance, the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory has released a web-based tool called the Technology Performance Exchange, or TPEx.
03/18/2014
Could green building practices pose unanticipated life-safety hazards?
03/13/2014
Worried about workplace violence in your facility? Researchers have discovered that “mindfully observing” high-risk employees can avert danger and workplace violence.
03/11/2014
Through the DOE’s Building Energy Codes Program, every dollar the DOE has spent on building energy codes over the past two decades has resulted in $400 in energy cost savings.
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