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Nanotechnology for Photovoltaics: A State-of-the-Art Overview

by Editor1 last modified July 27, 2010 - 11:19

Every hour, enough sunlight showers the earth to power all the world’s needs for an entire year -- if it could only be captured. A remarkable new book, Nanotechnology for Photovoltaics presents for the first time state-of-the-art overview of these promising nanoscale research projects in over 430 pages.

Nanotechnology for Photovoltaics: A State-of-the-Art Overview

NanoScienceWorks talks with the editor, Dr. Loucas Tsakalakos, a senior scientist and project leader for advanced/next generation photovoltaics at General Electric’s Global Research Center in Niskayuna, New York.

The book examines work being done by a growing army of nanoscientists looking to re-engineer many aspects of solar cell and photovoltaic technologies to boost outputs and cut costs – and thus improve solar’s widespread commercial prospects. Notably, Dr. Tsakalakos is one of those researchers.

“At GE’s Global Research Center, we’re looking at new concepts at the nanoscale, where you can change the architecture of the solar cell, and open new opportunities for the potential for low-cost processes to capture light, convert it, and then move the charge through the structure.” Dr. Tsakalakos said. “It seemed like a good time to explore those in a book because those technologies could have a dramatic impact on efficiency, help produce low-cost devices and save on materials utilization. All those could change the whole game.”

In Nanotechnology for Photovoltaics, Dr. Tsakalakos brings the reader the benefit of the broad and inter-disciplinary perspective he takes in his research at GE, where he explores various nanostructures, nanowires, thin films, and conductor techniques to improve solar cells and photovoltaics.

“The book’s approach is very multi-disciplinary. We worked directly with leaders in many important areas, by field and by geographic region,” he said. Nanotechnology for Photovoltaics explores scientific challenges associated with nanostructured photovoltaic devices, as well as prospects for use in real applications. In fact, the book features contributions from more than two dozen experts from all over the world.

Dr. Tsakalakos’ vision for the book was a simple yet powerful one: “We wanted to have experts describe the state of the art for their area of expertise, and relate that to application for photovoltaics,” he said.

Inside Nanotechnology for Photovoltaics
Nanotechnology for Photovoltaics explores a wealth of topics, including nanostructures, designs and energy conversion techniques for the next-generation of super-efficient photovoltaics and solar cells. Among the topics explored by some two dozen experts are:
  1. bulk nanostructured materials;
  2. quantum wells;
  3. optical and electrical aspects of nano-physics;
  4. nanowires (non-organic and organic);
  5. plasmonics
  6. quantum dots/nanoparticles; and
  7. solar conversion and concentrator technologies
“Certainly, we’re continuing to see silicon as a significant technology, and thin film technologies are growing,” Dr. Tsakalakos told “But there are a number of other technologies we discuss in the book that are brewing, and we're starting to see them show promise for [use] later in this decade.”

Already CNTs (carbon nanotubes), nanowires, and quantum dots are showing promising results at the device-level, improving photovoltaic response, he noted. But there are less well-known nanoscale technologies that are just as exciting, he added such as quantum wells and 3D nanocomposites.

Dr. Tsakalakos, noted for his own work in the photovoltaics and nanostructured materials and characterization, also adds an introduction and epilogue on the state and outlook for photovoltaics. “I think the book gives a nice snapshot and insights into where we need to be going and the science that is tied in to practical aspects from an industrial point of view,” he added.

This last part is extremely important, Dr. Tsakalakos told NSW. “We’re NOT trying to [show] photovoltaics properties of a single nanostructure. There has been great published work in that area. The focus of this book is using nanoscale structures to see how we can we think of a [devices] across a larger area, approaches and processes that are practical, and help researchers come up with new ideas [for photovoltaics] and ways to demonstrate them -- all at practical length scales.”

Connecting-the-Dots Across All
Nanoscale Photovoltaic Disciplines
Importantly, Dr. Tsakalakos said he wanted Nanotechnology for Photovoltaics to be more than a review of nanoscience technologies for photovoltaics. He also wants it help promote outcomes.

“This is a book about practical aspects,” he said. “We wanted to show a little bit more of an industrial or applied flavor and give a snapshot of the field in an organized way of looking at the field and classes of nanostructures. We also wanted to address market issues and industrial requirements, and lastly offer thoughts about potential manufacturing -- keeping in mind it is still early stage.”

He also wanted to help experts from different disciplines connect-the-dots, in hopes of broadening cross domain cooperation. “In putting the book together, it was also important to make it useful for industrialists, so that someone in an industrial research lab can get the latest science but also the vernacular from that science – all in one volume, so they can converse and interact with one another across disciplines,” Dr. Tsakalakos said.

Download a Sample Chapter for Nanotechnology for Photovoltaics

Table of Content

Chapter 1 - Introduction to Photovoltaic Physics, Applications, and Technologies.

Chapter 2 - Optical Properties of Nanostructures

Chapter 3 - Photovoltaic Device Physics on the Nanoscale

Chapter 4 - Nanostructured Organic Solar Cells

Chapter 5 - Recent Progress in Quantum Well Solar Cells

Chapter 6 - Nanowire- and Nanotube-Based Solar Cells

Chapter 7 - Semiconductor Nanowires: Contacts and Electronic Properties.

Chapter 8 - Quantum Dot Solar Cells

Chapter 9 - Luminescent Solar Concentrators

Chapter 10 - Nanoparticles for Solar Spectrum Conversion

Chapter 11 - Nanoplasmonics for Photovoltaic Applications.

Epilogue - Future Manufacturing Methods for Nanostructured Photovoltaic Devices.