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01/28/2013

Solar Cell Efficiency Upgrades?

 
Is solar truly the renewable energy to watch?  Many recent developments may push the technology towards affordability.

Solar energy is getting cheaper.  Solar energy is getting more efficient.  In the facility management and building world today, it’s almost impossible to maneuver without hearing about the benefits of “the one” renewable energy.  Everyday new technology updates and manufacturing techniques are emerging that may place solar squarely on top of the sustainable soiree.  Today is no different, as computer simulations by researchers at the University of California, Davis, and in Hungary are using an exotic form of silicon to improve the efficiency of solar cells.

Solar cells are based on the photoelectric effect: a photon, or particle of light, hits a silicon crystal and generates a negatively charged electron and a positively charged hole. Collecting those electron-hole pairs generates electric current.

Conventional solar cells generate one electron-hole pair per incoming photon, and have a theoretical maximum efficiency of 33 percent. One exciting new route to improved efficiency is to generate more than one electron-hole pair per photon, said Giulia Galli, professor of chemistry at UC Davis and co-author of the paper.

"This approach is capable of increasing the maximum efficiency to 42 percent, beyond any solar cell available today, which would be a pretty big deal," says lead author Stefan Wippermann, a postdoctoral researcher at UC Davis.

"In fact, there is reason to believe that if parabolic mirrors are used to focus the sunlight on such a new-paradigm solar cell, its efficiency could reach as high as 70 percent," says Wippermann.

Galli said that nanoparticles have a size of nanometers, typically just a few atoms across. Because of their small size, many of their properties are different from bulk materials. In particular, the probability of generating more than one electron-hole pair is much enhanced, driven by an effect called "quantum confinement." Experiments to explore this paradigm are being pursued by researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., as well as at UC Davis.

"But with nanoparticles of conventional silicon, the paradigm works only in ultraviolet light," says Wippermann. "This new approach will become useful only when it is demonstrated to work in visible sunlight."

The researchers simulated the behavior of a structure of silicon called silicon BC8, which is formed under high pressure but is stable at normal pressures, much as diamond is a form of carbon formed under high pressure but stable at normal pressures.

The computer simulations were run through the National Energy Research Scientific Supercomputing Center at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, which granted the project 10 million hours of supercomputer time.

The simulations demonstrated that nanoparticles of silicon BC8 indeed generate multiple electron-hole pairs per photon even when exposed to visible light.

"This is more than an academic exercise. A Harvard-MIT paper showed that when normal silicon solar cells are irradiated with laser light, the energy the laser emits may create a local pressure high enough to form BC8 nanocrystals. Thus, laser or chemical pressure treatment of existing solar cells may turn them into these higher-efficiency cells," says co-author Gergely Zimanyi, professor of physics at UC Davis.

Other authors of the paper are Marton Voros and Adam Gali at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Hungary.

The work was funded by a National Science Foundation Solar Collaborative grant awarded to Zimanyi, Galli and colleagues at UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz in 2011. The project brings together experts in material science, chemistry, computer simulations and statistics to develop new approaches to solar power.

 

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When choosing a metal-clad building for your next construction project, consider Morton Buildings, Inc., and their designBUILD team, we’ll make your dream a reality.

Visit our website today to learn about the design flexibility of a Morton building and the endless possibilities of partnering with our designBUILD team.

Wood construction is both cost and energy efficient. Check out Morton Buildings and our designBUILD team online today to discover all the benefits of post-frame construction.

We Can Help You Reduce Energy by 30%

Our mission is to help our customers manage their buildings' energy costs, improve reliability, and enhance performance while having a positive impact on the environment.
CLICK HERE to find out how.


Mitsubishi Electric’s H2i R2-Series heat pumps provide 100% heating capacity down to 0° F and simultaneous heating and cooling down to -4° F delivering year-round comfort, regardless of climate zone.

 
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.
03/07/2014
It is possible to harvest energy from Earth's thermal infrared emission into outer space, according to new research from the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
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