Dyes May Be The Future of Solar Power

by:Longsun     2020-05-12
Recent developments in dye sensitized solar cells (DSCs) have led to record-breaking cell efficiencies and speculation as to when, if ever, this technology will be commercially available. Two papers, by research teams at Northwestern and RMIT, present new techniques that significantly improve the design of DSCs. According to a study by Jongyun Moon et al., the recent volume of research 'indicates the importance of DSC technology as a future ubiquitous source of electricity'. DSCs are third generation solar cells that were inspired by the photosynthesis process. Discovered in 1991 by Michael Gratzel, these cells often contain titanium dioxide (TiO2), a naturally occurring and widely used pigment, instead of silicon. This is a significant distinction due to the increasing cost of silicon wafers. In addition, DSCs can be painted or sprayed onto any surface, operate on diffused light and are produced cheaply making them a promising alternative to current solar technologies. While their simple application process may give them a large advantage over other solar cells, DSCs have two unfortunate drawbacks. Chang, from the Northwestern group, writes that 'typical dye-sensitized solar cells suffer from durability problems that result from their use of organic liquid electrolytes... which causes serious problems such as electrode corrosion and electrolyte leakage'. In addition, DSC efficiencies and life-spans remain far below those of their crystalline counterparts. Both studies outline new ways to overcome these fundamental issues. In a Northwestern press release Mercouri Kanatzidis describes his team's solid-state cell: 'The Grazel cell is like having the concept for the light bulb but not having the tungsten wire or carbon material. We created a robust novel material that makes the Gratzel cell concept work better. Our material is solid, not liquid, so it should not leak or corrode.' The cell, which uses a thin-film compound made up of cesium, tin and iodine, achieved an efficiency of 10.2%. Not only is this a record for solid-state DSCs, it is also very close to the 11-12% efficiency record for liquid Gratzel cells. The paper explains that the record was reached by increasing 'visible light absorption on the red side of the spectrum'. The greater the amount (or range) of light absorbed, the more efficient the cell. While the landmark solar cell designed by Northwestern's research team used a semi-conductor doped TiO2, RMIT's dye sensitized solar cell took a novel approach by producing a niobium pentoxide (Nb2O5) semi-conductor. They report that their cell 'has a significantly higher efficiency (4.1%) when compared to that which incorporates a titanium dioxide nanotubular layer (2.7%)'. ABS Science reports that this material 'generates a higher voltage when it receives energy from its dye coating, thus increasing the overall efficiency of the solar cell by 30 per cent.' Despite recent successes in the laboratory, it remains unclear when we will see commercial DSC products. So far, DSCs have been losing the efficiency game to other solar cells and long-term dye stability remains a serious problem. As Moon and his colleagues said in their paper: 'It is, however unclear when DSCs could produce energy cost efficiently. As such, analysis on to what extent DSC technology could substitute for existing, more mature technologies is a challenging forecast.' With the cost of crystalline modules dropping dramatically, the emergence of DSCs as a major solar energy producer has become increasingly unlikely. Despite this, it is possible that dye sensitized solar cells will gain a special market due to their unique features.
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