Nanostructured carbon nanotubes boost solar-cell efficiency

April 8, 2014
Researchers at Umeå University have discovered that controlled placement of carbon nanotubes into particular nanostructures produces a huge boost in the optoelectronic performance of solar cells.

IMAGE: For carbon nanotubes (CNTs) to increase solar-cell efficiency, well-ordered nanostructured CNTs such as those being developed at Umeå University need to be developed. (Image credit: Umeå University)

Researchers at Umeå University (Umeå, Sweden) have discovered that controlled placement of carbon nanotubes into particular nanostructures produces a huge boost in the optoelectronic performance of solar cells; that is, carbon nanotubes are becoming increasingly attractive for photovoltaic solar cells as a replacement to silicon. Their results are published in the journal Advanced Materials.

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Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are one-dimensional nanoscale cylinders made of carbon atoms that possess very unique properties. For example, they have very high tensile strength and exceptional electron mobility, which make them very attractive for the next generation of organic and carbon-based electronic devices such as solar cells. Due to their exceptional properties, CNTs are expected to enhance the performance of current solar cells through efficient charge transport inside the device. However, in order to obtain the highest performance for electronic applications, the carbon nanotubes must be assembled into a well-ordered network of interconnecting nanotubes. Unfortunately, conventional methods used today are far from optimal which results in low device performance.

In a new study, a team of physicists and chemists at Umeå University have joined forces to produce nanoengineered carbon nanotubes networks with novel properties. For the first time, the researchers show that carbon nanotubes can be engineered into complex network architectures, and with controlled nanoscale dimensions inside a polymer matrix.

"We have found that the resulting nano networks possess exceptional ability to transport charges, up to 100 million times higher than previously measured carbon nanotube random networks produced by conventional methods," says David Barbero, leader of the project and assistant professor at the Department of Physics at Umeå University. The high degree of control of the method enables production of highly efficient nanotube networks with a very small amount of nanotubes compared to other conventional methods, thereby strongly reducing materials costs.

In a previous 2013 study (Applied Physics Letters 103, 2, 021116), the research team of David R. Barbero already demonstrated that nanoengineered networks can be produced onto thin and flexible transparent electrodes that can be used in flexible solar cells. These new results are expected to accelerate the development of next-generation flexible carbon-based solar cells, which are both more efficient and less expensive to produce.

SOURCE: Umeå University;

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