Solar’s “Thick and Thin” Dilemma: Will Nanoscale Architecture Fix It?

Physicists at Boston College havediscovered a possible means to solving solar technology’s "thick andthin" dilemma.

First reported in the online science journal collection, Physica Status Solidi, the nanoscale coax architecture, or nanocoax, takes its cue from radio technology (coaxial cables) that goes as far back as the mid 1800’s.

Researchers at Boston College invented nanocoax in 2005, and patented their technology some time last year.

What is The "Thick and Thin" Dilemma?

Most thin-film solar technology is hampered by competing optical andelectronic constraints.

A solar cell needs to be thick enough to collect sufficient light,but thin enough to extract current from. It also has to meet thechallenges of the Staebler-Wronski effect — a form of light degradation that decreases the longevityof cells.

Most groups looking for solutions, focus their research on the use ofcrystalline semiconductors. Boston College’s scientists claim that their newnanocoax technology does not require crystalline materials — making iteasier to manufacture, and considerably more cost-efficient.

Nanoscale Coax Architecture:

Optically, the nanocoax is thick enough to collect light. But it’sarchitecture, as seen in the photo below, is such that it allows a moreefficient method of current extraction.

Nanoscale Architecture May Solve Solar's

Other good news is that testing has found the nanocoax to run atabout 8% efficiency–a better rate than any thin-film solar cells todate. Plus it appears to reduce the effect of light degradation(mentioned above).

“This nanocoax cell architecture," says co-author Michael Naughton, a professor of physics at Boston College, "does not require crystallinematerials, and therefore offers promise for lower-cost solar power with ultra-thin absorbers. With continued optimization, efficiencies beyond anything achieved in conventional planar architectures may bepossible, while using smaller quantities of less costly material."

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