Breakthrough in quantum material could have big impact on solar industry

 

“ “The bottom line,” said Brent Fagg, VCU licensing associate, “there are a lot of solar technologies in existence. However, traditional solar cells are either low cost and low efficiency or high cost and high efficiency. With our technology, companies will be able to produce low cost, high efficiency, silicon compatible solar panels.””VCU Innovation Gateway

Virginia Commonwealth University researchers have developed a material that could drastically improve the efficiency of solar technology, making solar electricity significantly cheaper to use and more accessible.

 According to Indika U. Arachchige, lead researcher and an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry in the College of Humanities and Sciences, the material that he and his team developed will greatly enhance the light-harvesting ability of solar cells, while radically reducing the material costs.

Virginia Commonwealth University researchers have developed a material that could drastically improve the efficiency of solar technology, making solar electricity significantly cheaper to use and more accessible.

According to Indika U. Arachchige, lead researcher and an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry in the College of Humanities and Sciences, the material that he and his team developed will greatly enhance the light-harvesting ability of solar cells, while radically reducing the material costs.

 “Silicon and Germanium based material are known as Group IV and are currently the ideal active components for a broad range of devices, including solar cells,” Arachchige said. “However, silicon and germanium are of limited use because of their indirect energy gaps, which make their interactions with light much less efficient than those of many other direct energy-gap semiconductors.”

 So what does this mean in non-technical terms? Solar panels convert sun light to electricity. Traditional silicon solar panels require a two-step process for light absorption, each with its own chance of occurring. Think of it like rolling two dice. To generate electricity, you need to roll a six on both dice at the same time. With Arachchige’s breakthrough, you only need to role a six on one die to produce the same amount of electricity.

 “We’ve created a strikingly new technology that combines the unique advantages of nanoscale materials design and fabrication with attractive technological features of nontoxic, earth-abundant, and silicon-compatible Group IV elements,” Arachchige said.

 “The bottom line,” said Brent Fagg, VCU licensing associate, “there are a lot of solar technologies in existence. However, traditional solar cells are either low cost and low efficiency or high cost and high efficiency. With our technology, companies will be able to produce low cost, high efficiency, silicon compatible solar panels.”

 The real question is when this will be available to consumers.

 “Even though VCU’s team has developed a highly valuable material and production method, there is still more work that needs to be done before you will see this on roofs,” Fagg said. “An important next step will be to identify industry partners to scale up testing and manufacture the panels.”

 

VCU Innovation Gateway manages intellectual property protection and facilitates commercialization of VCU inventions. For more information, visit the Innovation Gateway website or contact Brent Fagg at bfagg@vcu.edu or (804) 827-2211.