Honeycomb layer boost for ultra-thin silicon photovoltaics

Researchers have developed a light-trapping honeycomb layer that has improved energy absorption in ultra-thin silicon photovoltaic panels by 25 percent.

honeycomb layer
The thin silicon membrane uses a disordered honeycomb layer to maximize sunlight absorption (Image: Surrey University)

Co-led by Surrey University, the team’s 1m-thick solar panels convert light into electricity more efficiently than others and could pave the way for making it easier to get more clean, green energy overall.

In a paper published in photonics, the team describes how they used features of sunlight to design a disordered honeycomb layer that sits on top of a slab of silicon. The honeycomb design allows light absorption from any angle and traps the light in the solar cell, allowing more energy to be generated.

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In a statement, Dr Marian Florescu of Surrey University’s Institute of Advanced Technology (ATI) said: “One of the challenges of working with silicon is that nearly a third of the light bounces straight off it without being absorbed and harnessing the energy. A textured layer over the silicon helps address this and give us disordered, but yet hyper-uniform honeycomb design has been particularly successful.”

The team of researchers from Surrey University and Imperial College London collaborated with AMOLF in Amsterdam to design, model and create the new ultra-thin photovoltaic cells.

In the lab, they would have achieved an absorption rate of 26.3 mA/cm2, a 25 percent increase from the previous record 19.72 mA/cm2 in 2017. They have achieved an efficiency of 21 percent, but expect that further improvements push the figure higher.

“There is enormous potential for the use of ultra-thin photovoltaic cells,” says Dr Florescu. “For example, given how light they are, they will be particularly useful in space and could make new alien projects viable. Because they use so much less silicon, we hope there will be cost savings here on Earth too, plus there could be potential to reap more benefits from the Internet of Things and to create zero-energy buildings that are locally powered.”

The team’s findings could also benefit industries where light management and surface engineering are critical, such as in photoelectrochemistry, solid-state light emission and photodetectors.

The next steps for the team include researching commercial partners and developing production techniques.

Abhishek Maheswari
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