Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Researchers use carbon nanotubes to make solar cells affordable, flexible

Date:
September 27, 2011
Source:
Northwestern University
Summary:
Researchers have found that metallic carbon nanotubes are 50 times more effective than semiconducting ones when used as transparent conductors in organic solar cells.

Researchers from Northwestern University have developed a carbon-based material that could revolutionize the way solar power is harvested. The new solar cell material -- a transparent conductor made of carbon nanotubes -- provides an alternative to current technology, which is mechanically brittle and reliant on a relatively rare mineral.

Related Articles


Due to Earth's abundance of carbon, carbon nanotubes have the potential to boost the long-term viability of solar power by providing a cost-efficient option as demand for the technology increases. In addition, the material's mechanical flexibility could allow solar cells to be integrated into fabrics and clothing, enabling portable energy supplies that could impact everything from personal electronics to military operations.

The research, headed by Mark C. Hersam, professor of materials science and engineering and professor of chemistry, and Tobin J. Marks, Vladimir N. Ipatieff Professor of Catalytic Chemistry and professor of materials science and engineering, is featured on the cover of the October 2011 issue of Advanced Energy Materials, a new journal that specializes in science about materials used in energy applications.

Solar cells are composed of several layers, including a transparent conductor layer that allows light to pass into the cell and electricity to pass out; for both these actions to occur, the conductor must be both electrically conductive and also optically transparent. Few materials concurrently possess both of these properties.

Currently, indium tin oxide is the dominant material used in transparent conductor applications, but the material has two potential limitations. Indium tin oxide is mechanically brittle, which precludes its use in applications that require mechanical flexibility. In addition, Indium tin oxide relies on the relatively rare element indium, so the projected increased demand for solar cells could push the price of indium to problematically high levels.

"If solar technology really becomes widespread, as everyone hopes it will, we will likely have a crisis in the supply of indium," Hersam said. "There's a great desire to identify materials -- especially earth-abundant elements like carbon -- that can take indium's place in solar technology."

Hersam and Marks' team has created an alternative to indium tin oxide using single-walled carbon nanotubes, tiny, hollow cylinders of carbon just one nanometer in diameter.

The researchers have gone further to determine the type of nanotube that is most effective in transparent conductors. Nanotubes' properties vary depending on their diameter and their chiral angle, the angle that describes the arrangement of carbon atoms along the length of the nanotube. These properties determine two types of nanotubes: metallic and semiconducting.

Metallic nanotubes, the researchers found, are 50 times more effective than semiconducting ones when used as transparent conductors in organic solar cells.

"We have now identified precisely the type of carbon nanotube that should be used in this application," Hersam said.

Because carbon nanotubes are flexible, as opposed to the brittle indium tin oxide, the researchers' findings could pave the way for many new applications in solar cells. For example, the military could incorporate the flexible solar cells into tent material to provide solar power directly to soldiers in the field, or the cells could be integrated into clothing, backpacks, or purses for wearable electronics.

"With this mechanically flexible technology, it's much easier to imagine integrating solar technology into everyday life, rather than carrying around a large, inflexible solar cell," Hersam said.

Researchers are now examining other layers of the solar cell to explore also replacing these with carbon-based nanomaterials.

Besides Hersam and Marks, other authors include Timothy P. Tyler, Ryan E. Brock, and Hunter J. Karmel. This work was supported by the Argonne Northwestern-Northwestern Solar Energy Research Center, an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Northwestern University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Timothy P. Tyler, Ryan E. Brock, Hunter J. Karmel, Tobin J. Marks, Mark C. Hersam. Organic Solar Cell Characterization: Electronically Monodisperse Single-Walled Carbon Nanotube Thin Films as Transparent Conducting Anodes in Organic Photovoltaic Devices (Adv. Energy Mater. 5/2011). Advanced Energy Materials, 2011; 1 (5): 701 DOI: 10.1002/aenm.201190021

Cite This Page:

Northwestern University. "Researchers use carbon nanotubes to make solar cells affordable, flexible." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 September 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110927124914.htm>.
Northwestern University. (2011, September 27). Researchers use carbon nanotubes to make solar cells affordable, flexible. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110927124914.htm
Northwestern University. "Researchers use carbon nanotubes to make solar cells affordable, flexible." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110927124914.htm (accessed November 24, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Matter & Energy News

Monday, November 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Car Park Solution for Flexible Green Energy

Car Park Solution for Flexible Green Energy

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 24, 2014) A British solar power start-up says that by covering millions of existing car park spaces around the UK with flexible solar panels, the country's power problems could be solved. Suzannah Butcher reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Microsoft Adds Robot Guards, Ushers In Sci-Fi Apocalypse

Microsoft Adds Robot Guards, Ushers In Sci-Fi Apocalypse

Newsy (Nov. 23, 2014) Microsoft has robotic security guards working at its Silicon Valley Campus. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Toyota's Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Green Car Soon Available in the US

Toyota's Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Green Car Soon Available in the US

AFP (Nov. 21, 2014) Toyota presented its hydrogen fuel-cell compact car called "Mirai" to US consumers at the Los Angeles auto show. The car should go on sale in 2015 for around $60.000. It combines stored hydrogen with oxygen to generate its own power. Duration: 01:18 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Google Announces Improvements To Balloon-Borne Wi-Fi Project

Google Announces Improvements To Balloon-Borne Wi-Fi Project

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) In a blog post, Google said its balloons have traveled 3 million kilometers since the start of Project Loon. Video provided by Newsy
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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

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