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Phosphorous-based 2D material may lead to advanced solar cells, Li-ion batteries

Solar-powered EV charging station. (Reference image by Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine, Flickr.)

Researchers at Queen Mary University of London and University College London have joined forces to provide a vision for how phosphorene nanoribbons (PNRs) can be used to help tackle the energy crisis.

In an article published in the journal Joule, the scientists explain that PNRs are ribbon-like strands of the 2D material phosphorous, which, like graphene, are made of single-atom-thick layers of atoms. They were first created in 2019 by a team led by Chris Howard of UCL following over a hundred theoretical papers predicting that they would have a range of fascinating and useful properties.

PNRs quickly found a role in their first energy device in solar cells in 2021. A project led by Tom Macdonald at Queen Mary University of London showed that PNRs can be simply printed as an extra layer to benefit solar cell functionality and efficiency by improving “hole mobility.”

“Holes” are the opposite partner of electrons in electrical transport, so improving their mobility — a measure of the speed at which they move through the material — helps electrical current move more efficiently between layers of the device.

“Last year we showed that PNRs can be printed onto perovskite solar cells to improve their efficiency and allow low-cost printing into thin, flexible films compared to traditional inflexible silicon-based solar cells,” Macdonald said in a media statement. “The promise of our PNR solar cells is incredible, but just the start of the many areas PNRs can revolutionize, from lithium-ion batteries to generating clean hydrogen gas.”

According to the researcher, significant steps have already been taken by scientists worldwide to create and use PNRs, including recent work showing that incorporating PNRs into Li-ion batteries dramatically improves performance and stability, with the PNRs able to suppress the formation of dendrites that lead to battery instability.