Solar cells to become more affordable with nanotechnology

According to researchers at Rice University and Tsinghua University, led by Jun Lou and co-lead investigator Hong Lin, a professor of  at Tsinghua, arrays of vertically aligned single-walled carbon nanotubes (VASWCNTs) grown at Rice University will lead to cheaper solar cells.

Currently, solar cells are made out of silicon nanotubes, but they are expensive. Although carbon dye-sensitized solar cells (DSCs), or carbon nanotubes, would be cheaper, they are less efficient. So, the researchers at Rice and Tsinghua have collaborated on a new process that would make the carbon nanotubes more efficient.

How are they pulling this off? Well, it’s a bit technical, but the carbon nanotubes have to be “sensitized” by dyes which decrease efficiency by absorbing light, some of which incorporate an iodine-based electrolyte that also corrodes metallic current collectors. A product that eats itself is not exactly good business or good technology.

So Tsinghua researchers decided to try a “noncorrosive, sulfide-based electrolyte that absorbs little visible light and works well with the single-walled carbon nanotube carpets created in the Rice lab of Robert Hauge, a co-author of the paper and a distinguished faculty fellow in chemistry at Rice’s Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology.”

They still have some work to do, but for the planet’s ecosystem, let’s hope they keep making advances in solar cell technology.