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Solar panel breakthrough achieves record efficiency with new quantum material

Solar panel breakthrough achieves record efficiency with new quantum material
Solar panel breakthrough achieves record efficiency with new quantum material

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This new material, showcased in a prototype solar cell, boasts an impressive 80% photovoltaic absorption rate and 190% EQE. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

Lehigh University researchers have unveiled a groundbreaking material that could revolutionize the efficiency of solar panels. This new material, showcased in a prototype solar cell, boasts an impressive 80% photovoltaic absorption rate, along with a remarkable external quantum efficiency (EQE) of up to 190%.

These figures far surpass the theoretical efficiency limit for traditional silicon-based materials, marking a significant advancement in the realm of photovoltaic technology.

Professor Chinedu Ekuma, along with doctoral student Srihari Kastuar, published their findings in the esteemed journal Science Advances. Ekuma expressed enthusiasm, stating, “This work represents a significant leap forward in our understanding and development of sustainable energy solutions, highlighting innovative approaches that could redefine solar energy efficiency and accessibility in the near future.”

Schematic of the thin-film solar cell with CuxGeSe/SnS as the active layer.

Schematic of the thin-film solar cell with CuxGeSe/SnS as the active layer. (CREDIT: Ekuma Lab / Lehigh University)

The material owes its enhanced efficiency to its unique “intermediate band states,” strategically positioned within its electronic structure. These states, with energy levels ranging from 0.78 to 1.26 electron volts, facilitate optimal absorption of sunlight and generation of charge carriers.

Additionally, the material demonstrates superior absorption properties across both the infrared and visible regions of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Traditionally, solar cells have been limited to an EQE of 100%, representing the generation and collection of one electron per absorbed photon. However, recent advancements have showcased materials capable of surpassing this limit through Multiple Exciton Generation (MEG).

Although not yet widely commercialized, MEG materials hold promise for significantly enhancing solar power efficiency.

The newly developed material from Lehigh University effectively captures photon energy lost by conventional solar cells, including that lost to reflection and heat production.

The development of this innovative material relied on leveraging “van der Waals gaps,” minuscule spaces between layered two-dimensional materials. These gaps enable the insertion, or “intercalation,” of additional elements to modify material properties. In this instance, researchers inserted zerovalent copper atoms between layers of germanium selenide (GeSe) and tin sulfide (SnS).

(LEFT) Chindeu Ekuma, specialist in computational condensed matter physics and (RIGHT) Srihari Kastuar, doctoral student. (CREDIT: Lehigh University)

Ekuma, a specialist in computational condensed matter physics, spearheaded the creation of the prototype following extensive computer modeling. He emphasized, “Its rapid response and enhanced efficiency strongly indicate the potential of Cu-intercalated GeSe/SnS as a quantum material for use in advanced photovoltaic applications, offering an avenue for efficiency improvements in solar energy conversion.”

While integrating the newly developed material into existing solar energy systems requires further research and development, Ekuma noted that the experimental technique utilized is already highly advanced. Scientists have refined methods for precisely inserting atoms, ions, and molecules into materials over time.

Structural and electron properties of CuxGeSe/SnS.

Structural and electron properties of CuxGeSe/SnS. Charge density difference in the crystal structure of CuxGeSe/SnS, illustrating positive (negative) charges depicted in blue (red). (CREDIT: Science Advances)

Funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, this research represents a significant stride towards realizing more efficient and accessible solar energy solutions.

With continued refinement, the Lehigh University-developed material holds promise for powering the next generation of high-efficiency solar cells, crucial for meeting global energy demands.

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