Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

New path to solar energy via solid-state photovoltaics

Date:
April 1, 2010
Source:
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Summary:
Researchers have found a new mechanism by which the photovoltaic effect can take place in semiconductor thin-films. This new path to energy production brightens the future for photovoltaic technology by overcoming voltage limitations that plague conventional solid-state solar cells.

These nanoscale images of bismuth ferrite thin films show ordered arrays of 71 degree domain walls (top) and 109 degree doman walls (bottom). By changing the polarization direction of the bismuth ferrite, these domain walls give rise to the photovoltaic effect.
Credit: Image from Seidel, et. al.

A newly discovered path for the conversion of sunlight to electricity could brighten the future for photovoltaic technology. Researchers with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have found a new mechanism by which the photovoltaic effect can take place in semiconductor thin-films. This new route to energy production overcomes the bandgap voltage limitation that continues to plague conventional solid-state solar cells.

Working with bismuth ferrite, a ceramic made from bismuth, iron and oxygen that is multiferroic -- meaning it simultaneously displays both ferroelectric and ferromagnetic properties -- the researchers discovered that the photovoltaic effect can spontaneously arise at the nanoscale as a result of the ceramic's rhombohedrally distorted crystal structure. Furthermore, they demonstrated that the application of an electric field makes it possible to manipulate this crystal structure and thereby control photovoltaic properties.

"We're excited to find functionality that has not been seen before at the nanoscale in a multiferroic material," said Jan Seidel, a physicist who holds joint appointments with Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division and the UC Berkeley Physics Department. "We're now working on transferring this concept to higher efficiency energy-research related devices."

Seidel is one of the lead authors of a paper in the journal Nature Nanotechnology that describes this work titled, "Above-bandgap voltages from ferroelectric photovoltaic devices." Co-authoring this paper with Seidel were Seung-Yeul Yang, Steven Byrnes, Padraic Shafer,Chan-Ho Yang, Marta Rossell, Pu Yu, Ying-Hao Chu, James Scott, Joel Ager, Lane Martin and Ramamoorthy Ramesh.

At the heart of conventional solid-state solar cells is a p-n junction, the interface between a semiconductor layer with an abundance of positively-charged "holes," and a layer with an abundance of negatively charged electrons. When photons from the sun are absorbed, their energy creates electron-hole pairs that can be separated within a "depletion zone," a microscopic region at the p-n junction measuring only a couple of micrometers across, then collected as electricity. For this process to take place, however, the photons have to penetrate the material to the depletion zone and their energy has to precisely match the energy of the semiconductor's electronic bandgap -- the gap between its valence and conduction energy bands where no electron states can exist.

"The maximum voltage conventional solid-state photovoltaic devices can produce is equal to the energy of their electronic bandgap," Seidel says. "Even for so called tandem-cells, in which several semiconductor p-n junctions are stacked, photovoltages are still limited because of the finite penetration depth of light into the material."

Working through Berkeley Lab's Helios Solar Energy Research Center, Seidel and his collaborators discovered that by applying white light to bismuth ferrite, a material that is both ferroelectric and antiferromagnetic, they could generate photovoltages within submicroscopic areas between one and two nanometers across. These photovoltages were significantly higher than bismuth ferrite's electronic bandgap.

"The bandgap energy of the bismuth ferrite is equivalent to 2.7 volts. From our measurements we know that with our mechanism we can get approximately 16 volts over a distance of 200 microns. Furthermore, this voltage is in principle linear scalable, which means that larger distances should lead to higher voltages."

Behind this new mechanism for photovoltage generation are domain walls -- two-dimensional sheets that run through a multiferroic and serve as transition zones, separating regions of different ferromagnetic or ferroelectric properties. In their study, Seidel and his collaborators found that these domain walls can serve the same electron-hole separation purpose as depletion zones only with distinct advantages.

"The much smaller scale of these domain walls enables a great many of them to be stacked laterally (sideways) and still be reached by light," Seidel says. "This in turn makes it possible to increase the photovoltage values well above the electronic bandgap of the material."

The photovoltaic effect arises because at the domain walls the polarization direction of the bismuth ferrite changes, which leads to steps in the electrostatic potential. Through annealing treatments of the substrate upon which bismuth ferrite is grown, the material's rhombohedral crystals can be induced to form domain walls that change the direction of electric field polarization by either 71, 109 or 180 degrees. Seidel and his collaborators measured the photovoltages created by the 71 and 109 degree domain walls.

"The 71 degree domain walls showed unidirectional in-plane polarization alignment and produced an aligned series of potential voltage steps," Seidel says. "Although the potential step at the 109 degree domain was higher than the 71 degree domain, it showed two variants of the in-plane polarization which ran in opposite directions."

Seidel and his colleagues were also able to use a 200 volt electric pulse to either reverse the polarity of the photovoltaic effect or turn it off altogether. Such controllability of the photovoltaic effect has never been reported in conventional photovoltaic systems, and it paves the way for new applications in nano-optics and nano-electronics.

"While we have not yet demonstrated these possible new applications and devices, we believe that our research will stimulate concepts and thoughts that are based on this new direction for the photovoltaic effect," Seidel says.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Yang et al. Above-bandgap voltages from ferroelectric photovoltaic devices. Nature Nanotechnology, 2010; 5 (2): 143 DOI: 10.1038/nnano.2009.451

Cite This Page:

DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "New path to solar energy via solid-state photovoltaics." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 April 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100331091147.htm>.
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. (2010, April 1). New path to solar energy via solid-state photovoltaics. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100331091147.htm
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "New path to solar energy via solid-state photovoltaics." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100331091147.htm (accessed July 25, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Friday, July 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Goma Cheese Brings Whiff of New Hope to DRC

Goma Cheese Brings Whiff of New Hope to DRC

Reuters - Business Video Online (July 24, 2014) The eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, mainly known for conflict and instability, is an unlikely place for the production of fine cheese. But a farm in the village of Masisi, in North Kivu is slowly transforming perceptions of the area. Known simply as Goma cheese, the Congolese version of Dutch gouda has gained popularity through out the region. Ciara Sutton reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Bill Gates: Health, Agriculture Key to Africa's Development

Bill Gates: Health, Agriculture Key to Africa's Development

AFP (July 24, 2014) Health and agriculture development are key if African countries are to overcome poverty and grow, US software billionaire Bill Gates said Thursday, as he received an honourary degree in Ethiopia. Duration: 00:36 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Higgins Breaks Record at Mt. Washington

Higgins Breaks Record at Mt. Washington

Driving Sports (July 24, 2014) Subaru Rally Team USA drivers David Higgins and Travis Pastrana face off against a global contingent of racers at the annual Mt. Washington Hillclimb in New Hampshire. Includes exclusive in-car footage from Higgins' record attempt. Video provided by Driving Sports
Powered by NewsLook.com
Storm Kills Three, Injures 20 at Virginia Campground

Storm Kills Three, Injures 20 at Virginia Campground

Reuters - US Online Video (July 24, 2014) A likely tornado tears through an eastern Virginia campground, killing three and injuring at least 20. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

    Health News

      Environment News

        Technology News



          Save/Print:
          Share:

          Free Subscriptions


          Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

          Get Social & Mobile


          Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

          Have Feedback?


          Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
          Mobile: iPhone Android Web
          Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
          Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
          Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins