New solar material captures entire light spectrum

October 17 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: 2018   Rating: 2

Ohio State University researchers have designed a new conductive plastic material that absorbs all the energy contained in sunlight, and loosens electrons in a way that makes them easier to capture.

Why is this important?
This materials breakthrough could help expand the efficiency of solar energy. One of the major obstacles in solar power generation is that most photovoltaic systems only capture visible light which is a small portion of the entire light spectrum.

The colors that we see with our eyes are really different energy levels. Most solar cell materials capture only a small range of these frequencies of light. The Ohio State material is the first that can absorb all the energy contained in visible light at once.

Solar panels create electricity when entering light excites the atoms of the material knocking some of the electrons in those atoms loose.

The team of chemists combined electrically conductive plastic with metals including molybdenum and titanium to create the hybrid material which could change how we look at solar-electron reactions.

How the new material helps to capture electrons?

In typical solar to electricity reactions the electrons only stay loose for a fraction of a second before they sink back into the atom. Capturing the electron is a task called charge separation.

The Ohio State team believes that its materials allows the electrons to remain free much longer by tapping the power of phosphorescence.

According to the press release the new material emits electrons in two different energy states—one called a singlet state, and the other a triplet state. Both energy states are useful for solar cell applications, and the triplet state lasts much longer than the singlet state.

When the team deposited the molecules in a thin film material, similar to how they might be arranged in an actual solar cell, the triplet states lasted even longer: 200 microseconds.

“This long-lived excited state should allow us to better manipulate charge separation,” Chisholm said.

The proof of concept material is still years from commercialization, but it is still a major fundamental breakthrough for the solar materials world.

The project was funded by the National Science Foundation and Ohio State’s Institute for Materials Research.

Press release

Technical paper abstract

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Image credit: Wikimedia

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