Researchers at the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) discovered single-walled carbon nanotube semiconductors could be favorable for photovoltaic systems because they can potentially convert sunlight to electricity or fuels without losing much energy.
The research builds on the Nobel Prize-winning work of Rudolph Marcus, who developed a fundamental tenet of physical chemistry that explains the rate at which an electron can move from one chemical to another. The Marcus formulation, however, has rarely been used to study photoinduced electron transfer for emerging organic semiconductors such as single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNT) that can be used in organic PV devices.
In organic PV devices, after a photon is absorbed, charges (electrons and holes) generally need to be separated across an interface so that they can live long enough to be collected as electrical current. The electron transfer event that produces these separated charges comes with a potential energy loss as the molecules involved have to structurally reorganize their bonds. This loss is called reorganization energy, but NREL researchers found little energy was lost when pairing SWCNT semiconductors with fullerene molecules.
“What we find in our study is this particular system — nanotubes with fullerenes — have an exceptionally low reorganization energy and the nanotubes themselves probably have very, very low reorganization energy,” said Jeffrey Blackburn, a senior scientist at NREL and co-author of the paper “Tuning the driving force for exciton dissociation in single-walled carbon nanotube heterojunctions.”
A simple chemical conversion could be another step toward making cheap, efficient and stable perovskite solar cells.
Thin films of crystalline materials called perovskites provide a promising new way of making inexpensive and efficient solar cells. Now, an international team of researchers has shown a way of flipping a chemical switch that converts one type of perovskite into another — a type that has better thermal stability and is a better light absorber.
The study, by researchers from Brown University, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technology published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, could be one more step toward bringing perovskite solar cells to the mass market.
“We’ve demonstrated a new procedure for making solar cells that can be more stable at moderate temperatures than the perovskite solar cells that most people are making currently,” said Nitin Padture, professor in Brown’s School of Engineering, director of Brown’s Institute for Molecular and Nanoscale Innovation, and the senior co-author of the new paper. “The technique is simple and has the potential to be scaled up, which overcomes a real bottleneck in perovskite research at the moment.”
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), located in Golden, Colorado, is the United States’ primary laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is a government-owned, contractor-operated facility; it is funded through the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). This arrangement allows a private entity to operate the lab on behalf of the federal government under a prime contract. NREL receives funding from Congress to be applied toward research and development projects. NREL also performs research on photovoltaics (PV) under the National Center for Photovoltaics. NREL has a number of PV research capabilities including research and development, testing, and deployment. NREL’s campus houses several facilities dedicated to PV research.
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