Scientists at Rice University are developing new solar cells from single-wall nano tube arrays. These nano-tubes, grown in a process invented at Rice, are more electroactive and cheaper to make than current dye-sensitized solar cells (DSC). These solar cells typically use platinum as a catalyst, making solar power a not-so-cheap alternative.
The new nanotube solar cells will pave the way for a low-cost highly efficient alternative to silicon based cells, says Jun Lou and Hong Lin, the scientists who released their findings in Nature Scientific Reports. I suggest an advanced engineering degree if you plan on checking it out. Not an easy read.
To put it in layman's terms, DSCs, as mentioned above, use a catalyst and an electrolyte to convert photon energy from the sun into electric energy we use every day. The scientists at Rice have developed a new catalyst in the form of carbon nanotubes, and are pairing that with a new sulfide based electrolyte to make the process more efficient.
DSCs are typically easier to manufacture than an alternative form of solar cell called solid-state photovoltaic cells, but they aren't as efficient. The scientists at Rice are attempting to up the efficiency of DSCs with this new carbon nanotube technology while retaining the ease of manufacturing DSCs are known for.
In tests, resistance between the components of these new solar cells is very low, making for a more efficient cell.
As Lou explains in his report, the technology is very promising, but there is still work to be done: “The carbon nanotube-to-current collector still has a pretty large contact resistance, and the effects of structural defects in carbon nanotubes on their corresponding performance are not fully understood, but we believe once we optimize everything, we’re going to get decent efficiency and make the whole thing very affordable,” Lou says.
One of the largest deterrents for the use of solar energy is it's high start-up cost. If Lou and Lin complete their work, creating a low cost alternative to current solar cells, it could welcome a whole new wave of consumers trying out the technology for themselves. A low cost and self-regenerating energy source is exactly what we need right now.