Relatively inexpensive, easy-to-manufacture, nanoparticle-based solar cells can be created with materials that are abundantly common throughout the Earth’s crust, according to new work from researchers at the University of Alberta. The new nanoparticle-based solar cells — which could be mass-manufactured using simple methods, such as roll-to-roll printing or spray-coating — are possible thanks to a new type of nanoparticle designed by the researchers.
The researchers think that the new design/discovery — which according to them has been several years in the making — “is an important step forward in making solar power more accessible to parts of the world that are off the traditional electricity grid or face high power costs, such as the Canadian North.”
The press release from the University of Alberta has more:
Researcher Jillian Buriak, a chemistry professor and senior research officer of the National Institute for Nanotechnology based on the U of A campus, and her team have designed nanoparticles that absorb light and conduct electricity from two very common elements: phosphorus and zinc. Both materials are more plentiful than scarce materials such as cadmium and are free from manufacturing restrictions imposed on lead-based nanoparticles.
Buriak collaborated with U of A post-doctoral fellows Erik Luber of the U of A Faculty of Engineering and Hosnay Mobarok of the Faculty of Science to create the nanoparticles. The team was able to develop a synthetic method to make zinc phosphide nanoparticles, and demonstrated that the particles can be dissolved to form an ink and processed to make thin films that are responsive to light.
The researchers are currently experimenting with the nanoparticles — including spray-coating them onto large solar cells as a means of testing their efficiency.
Buriak explains why she thinks that the research is so important: “Half the world already lives off the grid, and with demand for electrical power expected to double by the year 2050, it is important that renewable energy sources like solar power are made more affordable by lowering the costs of manufacturing. Nanoparticle-based ‘inks’ could be used to literally paint or print solar cells or precise compositions.”
The researchers have applied for a provisional patent and have already secured the funding necessary to scale the technology up.