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Flexible solar cells from graphene and nanowires

Flexible solar cells from graphene and nanowires
Illustration shows the layered structure of the new device, starting with a flexible layer of graphene, a one-atom-thick carbon material. A layer of polymer is bonded to that, and then a layer of zinc-oxide nano wires (shown in magenta), and finally a layer of a material that can extract energy from sunlight, such as quantum dots or a polymer-based material. Illustration courtesy of the research team from MIT.

Low-cost, light-weight and flexible solar cells are envisaged for the next-generation construction materials known as building integrated photovoltaics – windows, roofs and facades that could transform the light of the sun for an on-site source of power.

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Now, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have come up with a new solar cell that could fulfill these three requirements and has an added benefit of being transparent.

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The new cell is based on sheets of flexible graphene coated with a layer of nanowires.

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According to associate professor of materials science and engineering, Silvija Gradečak, building semiconducting nanostructures on a graphene surface without impairing its electrical and structural properties is a challenge.

To overcome this, the team used a series of polymer coatings to allow the graphene to bond a layer of zinc oxide nanowires. They then overlayed a material that responded to light waves.

The team also used and tested a series of overlay materials in their devices– including lead-sulfide quantum dots and a polymer called P3HT. They achieved the best results with the quantum dots, getting an efficiency of 4.2 percent.

Currently, only proof-of-concept devices about a half-inch in size have been demonstrated. Even so, Ms. Gradečak and her collegues believe that the manufacturing process is highly scalable and larger commercial sized devices based on these cells will be developed within a couple of year. – EcoSeed Staff

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