Friday, 22 February 2019 07:48

ANU scientists find new way to boost solar cell performance

By
Dr Hieu Nguyen and Thien Truong. Dr Hieu Nguyen and Thien Truong. ANU

Scientists at the Australian National University have found that when hydrogen atoms are injected into the skin of a solar cell, rather than the body, the performance of the whole structure gets a significant boost.

The skin of a solar cell is 1000 times thinner than a human hair and serves the functions of conducting electricity and protecting the cell.

In a statement, the team said this could make solar technology more efficient and accessible.

Lead researcher Dr Hieu Nguyen said: “Hydrogen is the lightest element in the periodic table but extremely powerful for healing ‘wounds’ in semiconductor materials.

“Unfortunately, in nature, it often exists in a molecular form (two atoms joined together). We got around this by placing another material with plenty of atomic hydrogen on top of the skin, then pushing the individual hydrogen atoms into the skin by simply heating the sample at 400 degrees C.”

The researchers also found that the skin can emit light which has some distinct characteristics.

“When you start with high-quality silicon materials, there is limited room for improving the cell body. Thus, improving the skin layer is a very critical step for achieving highly-efficient solar cells,” doctoral candidate Thien Truong said.

"These discoveries will definitely help produce more robust and more efficient silicon solar cells since we now know how to manipulate this hydrogen content inside the skin to have a better solar cell.”

Dr Nguyen said this technology was likely to replace traditional solar cell technology in coming years.

“If you look at a lot of solar panels around now, many of them are already 20 or 30 years old, but now the new technology’s going to be shifting to this type of cell architecture," he said.

“Our discoveries will provide engineers and scientists with a powerful tool to study and improve the efficiency of this solar cell technology."

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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