The efficiency of solar cells has been a major bugbear for the world’s best known alternative energy. New technology, called “nanocone cells” has delivered a huge boost to efficiency and applications.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory has developed a way of dealing with “traps” in photovoltaic cells based on the interaction of electrons and “positive holes” that have previously interfered with transport of charges. The nanocones form a truly 3D structure as Science Daily explains: The new solar structure consists of n-type nanocones surrounded by a p-type semiconductor.
The n-type nanoncones are made of zinc oxide and serve as the junction framework and the electron conductor. The p-type matrix is made of polycrystalline cadmium telluride and serves as the primary photon absorber medium and hole conductor. This means, translated, that the charges are much better organized, and the “traps” are eliminated. The result of the new configuration in trials was nearly double the efficiency of conventional solar cells. Carbon nanotubes have been previously proposed to deal with this problem, but this is the first time it’s actually been done.
The huge increase in efficiency is no minor achievement, and there are major league ramifications for the global economy. Existing solar cells have been making major inroads into global power systems, including big clients like China and Germany as parts of major national power system revamps. Increased efficiency means many more commercial applications, and some very interested big customers likely to be queuing up for orders. The nanocones may have other uses, in my opinion. Dealing with energy inefficiencies is one of the primary issues of electronics and computer technologies and electrical technology generally.
In the absence of a superconductor, why not try out the nanocones on these problems? Revolutions started in labs tend to create surges of technology which build on them. Things aren’t likely to be dull, when this technology hits the market.