New improvements have been made in solar cell technology at Washington State University. Here's an excerpt:
Researchers have reached a critical milestone in solar cell fabrication, helping pave the way for solar energy to directly compete with electricity generated by conventional energy sources.
Led by the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory and in collaboration with Washington State University and the University of Tennessee, the researchers improved the maximum voltage available from a cadmium telluride (CdTe) solar cell, overcoming a practical limit that has been pursued for six decades and is key to improving its efficiency. The work is published in the Feb. 29 issue of Nature Energy.
Silicon solar cells currently represent 90% of the solar cell market, but it will be difficult to significantly reduce their manufacturing costs. CdTe solar cells offer a low-cost alternative. They have the lowest carbon footprint of any other solar technology and perform better than silicon in real world conditions, including in hot, humid weather and under low light. However, until recently, CdTe cells haven't been as efficient as silicon-based cells.
One key area where CdTe has underperformed was in the maximum voltage available from the solar cell, called open-circuit voltage. Limited by the quality of CdTe materials, researchers for the past 60 years were not able to get more than 900 millivolts out of the material, which was considered its practical limit.
The research team improved cell voltage by shifting away from a standard processing step using cadmium chloride. Instead, they placed a small number of phosphorus atoms on tellurium lattice sites and then carefully formed ideal interfaces between materials with different atomic spacing to complete the solar cell. This approach improved the CdTe conductivity and carrier lifetime each by orders of magnitude, thereby enabling the fabrication of CdTe solar cells with an open-circuit voltage breaking the 1-volt barrier for the first time. The innovation establishes new research paths for solar cells to become more efficient and provide electricity at lower cost than fossil fuels.