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New Solar Cell Sets World Record for Efficiency

Colloidal quantum dot cell is tops in its class.

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Colloidal quantum dot cell is tops in its class

It’s a research breakthrough that moves the world closer to reliable, low-cost solar energy.

An international group of researchers led by University of Toronto Engineering Professor Ted Sargent has created the most efficient CQD solar cell the world has ever seen – with a record-breaking 7.0% efficiency.

CQD stands for colloidal quantum dot – a type of semiconductor only a few nanometres in size which is used to harvest electricity from the entire solar spectrum, including both visible and invisible wavelengths.

"Our world urgently needs innovative, cost-effective ways to convert the sun's abundant energy into usable electricity,” said Sargent. “This work shows that the abundant materials interfaces inside colloidal quantum dots can be mastered in a robust manner, proving that low cost and steadily-improving efficiencies can be combined."

U of T News Photo
U of T's new solar cell represents a 37% increase in efficiency over the previous certified record. U of T News  

The findings, published in Nature Nanotechnology, are the result of work by the University of Toronto and King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST).

“Previously, quantum dot solar cells have been limited by the large internal surface areas of the nanoparticles in the film, which made extracting electricity difficult,” said post-doctoral fellow Susanna Thon, a lead co-author of the paper. “Our breakthrough was to use a combination of organic and inorganic chemistry to completely cover all of the exposed surfaces.”

Unlike current slow and expensive semiconductor growth techniques, CQD films can be created quickly and at low cost, similar to paint or ink. This research paves the way for solar cells that can be fabricated on flexible substrates in the same way newspapers are rapidly printed in mass quantities.

The U of T cell represents a 37% increase in efficiency over the previous certified record. In order to improve efficiency, the researchers needed a way to both reduce the number of “traps” for electrons associated with poor surface quality while simultaneously ensuring their films were very dense to absorb as much light as possible. The solution was a so-called “hybrid passivation” scheme.

“By introducing small chlorine atoms immediately after synthesizing the dots, we’re able to patch the previously unreachable nooks and crannies that lead to electron traps,” explained doctoral student and lead co-author Alex Ip. “We follow that by using short organic linkers to bind quantum dots in the film closer together.”

Work led by Professor Aram Amassian of KAUST showed that the organic ligand exchange was necessary to achieve the densest film.

“The KAUST group used state-of-the-art synchrotron methods with sub-nanometer resolution to discern the structure of the films and prove that the hybrid passivation method led to the densest films with the closest-packed nanoparticles," stated Professor Amassian.

This advance opens up many avenues for further research and improvement of device efficiencies, which could contribute to a bright future with reliable, low cost solar energy.