Researchers have developed an innovative manufacturing technique using a microscopic rake to double the electricity output of inexpensive solar cells.
The researchers from the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University said that the electricity output of inexpensive solar cells could be doubled when manufactured with microscopic rake applying light-harvesting polymers.
Staff conducted experiments using solar cells made with the tiny rake, which are 18% more effective than those produced using a microscopic straight-edge blade.
Polymer-based photovoltaic cells will be more cost-effective as they are made of inexpensive materials and can be simply painted or printed in place.
The researchers used computer simulation and X-ray analyses to customise the FLUENCE rake for making solar cells.
SSRL Materials Sciences group leader Mike Toney said: "At SSRL, the team used X-ray diffraction to measure the degree to which the polymers formed crystals and X-ray scattering to determine how clearly the two polymers segregated themselves.
"These are bread-and-butter techniques for which we’ve developed some novel approaches at SSRL in recent years."
Research lead Zhenan Bao said: "The fundamental scientific insights that come out of this work will give manufacturers a rational approach to improving their processes, rather than relying simply on trial and error.
"We also expect this simple, effective and versatile concept will be broadly applicable to making other polymer devices, where properly aligning the molecules is important."
According to SLAC, future research will include application of FLUENCE technique to other polymer blends, in order to facilitate the adoption of rapid industrial-scale, roll-to-roll printing processes that can reach speeds of up to 50 miles an hour.
The research is funded by the US Department of Energy’s Bridging Research Interactions through the collaborative Development Grants in Energy (BRIDGE) programme and the findings were published in the 12 August issue of Nature Communications.
Image: A scanning electron microscope image. Photo: courtesy of SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.