Electron Spin Key to Solar Cell Breakthrough
TEHRAN (Tasnim) - Researchers discovered that manipulating the spin of electrons in organic solar cells that use carbon-based molecules to convert light to electricity dramatically improves their performance.
Organic solar cells, a new class of solar cell that mimics the natural process of plant photosynthesis, could revolutionise renewable energy -- but currently lack the efficiency to compete with the more costly commercial silicon cells.
At the moment, organic solar cells can achieve as much as 12 per cent efficiency in turning light into electricity, compared with 20 to 25 per cent for silicon-based cells.
Now, researchers have discovered that manipulating the 'spin' of electrons in these solar cells dramatically improves their performance, providing a vital breakthrough in the pursuit of cheap, high performing solar power technologies.
The study, by researchers from the Universities of Cambridge and Washington, is published in the journal Nature, and comes just days after scientists called on governments around the world to focus on solar energy with the same drive that put a man on the moon, calling for a "new Apollo mission to harness the sun's power."
Organic solar cells replicate photosynthesis using large, carbon-based molecules to harvest sunlight instead of the inorganic semiconductors used in commercial, silicon-based solar cells. These organic cells can be very thin, light and highly flexible, as well as printed from inks similar to newspapers -- allowing for much faster and cheaper production processes than current solar cells.
But consistency has been a major issue. Scientists have, until now, struggled to understand why some of the molecules worked unexpectedly well, while others perform indifferently.
Researchers from Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory developed sensitive laser-based techniques to track the motion and interaction of electrons in these cells. To their surprise, the team found that the performance differences between materials could be attributed to the quantum property of 'spin'.
'Spin' is a property of particles related to their angular momentum, with electrons coming in two flavours, 'spin-up' or 'spin-down'. Electrons in solar cells can be lost through a process called 'recombination', where electrons lose their energy -- or "excitation" state -- and fall back into an empty state known as the "hole."
Researchers found that by arranging the electrons 'spin' in a specific way, they can block the energy collapse from 'recombination' and increase current from the cell.