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Grand Challenge 1: Economical Solar Energy

Sunlight that strikes Earth provides 10,000 times more energy than that produced commercially; more efficient solar energy is vital for long-term energy sustainability.


Nanowires May Boost Solar Cell Efficiency

Jacobs School electrical engineers have created experimental solar cells spiked with nanowires that could lead to highly efficient thin-film solar cells of the future, according to research recently published in NanoLetters.

The indium phosphide (InP) nanowires serve as electron superhighways that carry electrons kicked loose by photons of light directly to the device's electron-attracting electrode.

"If nanowires are going to be used massively in photovoltaic devices, then the growth mechanism of nanowires on arbitrary metallic surfaces is an issue of great importance," said co-author Paul Yu, a professor of electrical engineering at the Jacobs School. "We contributed one approach to growing nanowires directly on metal."

"If you provide electrons with a defined pathway to the electrode, you can reduce some of the inefficiencies that currently plague thin-film solar cells made from polymer mixtures. More efficient transport of electrons and holes is critical for creating more efficient solar cells," said Clint Novotny, the first author of the NanoLetters paper and a recent electrical engineering Ph.D.Novotny is now working on solar technologies at BAE Systems.

Electrical engineer Edward Yu, who is also a co-author on the NanoLetters paper, received $885,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy recently to continue work on high-efficiency photovoltaics based on semiconductor nanostructures.

Edward Yu (left) and Paul Yu (right), both electrical engineering professors, are involved in several projects at the intersection of nanotechnology and solar cells.
Edward Yu (left) and Paul Yu (right), both electrical engineering professors, are involved in several projects at the intersection of nanotechnology and solar cells.