The rows of blue solar modules that dot the roof are typically made of crystalline silicon, the workhorse in virtually every electronic device.
In solar technology, cadmium telluride could replace the silicon.
Over the past decade, Colorado State University (CSU) researchers have pioneered studies to improve the performance and cost of solar energy by producing and testing new materials that go beyond the capabilities of silicon. Cadmium telluride. They are focused on replacing silicon with cadmium telluride.
In collaboration with colleagues from Loughborough University in the UK, researchers at CSU’s Next Generation Photovoltaics Center have made a major breakthrough in how the performance of cadmium telluride thin-film solar cells can be further enhanced by the addition of selenium.
The research results were published in the journal Nature Energy.
“Our report goes as far as a fundamental understanding of what happens when we alloy selenium to cadmium telluride,” said Kurt Barth, director of the Next Generation Photovoltaics Center and adjunct research professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
So far it has not been clear why the addition of selenium has been a record-breaking cadmium telluride solar cell efficiency of over 22 percent.
Together with the CSU employees WS Sampath and Amit Munshi have solved this mystery for Barth and an international team. Their suggestion that selenium overcomes the effects of atomic defects in cadmium telluride crystals, opening a new path for widespread, cheaper solar power.
The cadmium telluride thin films produced by the CSU team consume 100 times less material than conventional silicon solar cells.
They are easier to manufacture and absorb sunlight at almost ideal wavelength. The electricity generated by cadmium telluride photovoltaic cells is the most cost-effective in the solar industry and undercuts fossil fuels in many parts of the world.
According to the report, it is less likely for electrons that are generated when sunlight strikes the bleached solar panel to be trapped and lost in the material’s defects.
These defects arise during growth at the boundary between the crystal grains. This increases the amount of energy received from each solar cell.
Working with the materials produced at the CSU using advanced deposition methods, the team discovers this as it is registered as it is emitted from selenium-containing solar modules.
Because selenium is not evenly distributed throughout the modules, they have little or no selenium to areas where the selenium was very concentrated.
“Good and defect-free solar cell material is very efficient in light emission and hence in luminescence,” said Tom Fiducia, principal author of the research report and a Ph.D. student at the University of Loughborough, in collaboration with Professor Michael Walls.
“It is strikingly clear from the data that selenium-rich regions are much brighter than pure cadmium telluride, and the effect is remarkably strong.”
Since 2009, the National Science Foundation has supported the work of the Next Generation Photovoltaics Center.