A team of academics based at the University of Washington have announced an exciting breakthrough in dye-sensitized solar cell technology.
Researchers studying solar cell configurations discovered that by using a design based on a popcorn ball (tiny spheres grouped into bigger porous spheres), efficiency in cheap solar cells was more than doubled.
The advances were detailed in a paper presented at a national meeting of the American Chemical Society in New Orleans. According to lead author Guozhong Cao, a UW professor of materials science and engineering, “we think this can lead to a significant breakthrough in dye-sensitized solar cells.”
Each gram of the new material contains 1000 square feet of light absorbing pigment. The complex design also means that light gets trapped inside the materials, leading to a remarkable increase in absorption. So far, they've only done this with zinc-oxide dyes, which are much less efficient than titanium oxide dyes. The next step in the process is to see if they can reproduce the technique with high-efficiency dies, and still get that 250% spike in efficiency.
Dye-sensitive cells have been around since the early 90s and have so far peaked at about 11% efficiency. But if this new technique works with the more efficient titanium oxide pigments as it does with the less efficienct zinc oxide, then we could see more than 25% efficiency. That would make these cells considerably more efficient than current thin-film cells, like ones being produced by Nanosolar. Though dye cells have many of the same advantages as thin film solar, being light-weight, flexible, and possibly printable, so far thin film has beat them in cost per watt.
But that was before nano-popcorn-balls came along. Now we'll just have to wait and see.
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