Solar cells could achieve record-breaking efficiency via quantum confinement

Researchers from the USA and Hungary are working on solar cells capable of record-breaking levels of efficiency via the manipulation of nano-particles under conditions of natural sunlight.

Phys.org
reports that scientists from the University of California, Davis in collaboration with colleagues from Hungary have used computer simulations to demonstrate that the new process could enable solar cells to attain a maximum efficiency of up to 42%, far in excess of anything achievable at present.

According to their paper published on January 25 in the journal Physical Review Letters, the process involves enhancing the photoelectric effect by enabling photons to generate multiple electron holes instead of only a single one, and relies upon a phenomenon called "quantum confinement" which comes into effect due to the miniscule size of the particles at play.

Quantum confinement usually only works with silicon nano-particles under conditions of ultraviolet light, yet computer simulations performed by the researchers indicate that silicon solar cells could be developed which enable quantum confinement to come into play when exposed to visible sunlight.

The computer simulations were performed using the National Energy Research Scientific Supercomputing Center at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, and involved 10 million hours of processing time.