January 28, 2013

One in, two out: Simulating more efficient solar cells

Using an exotic form of silicon could substantially improve the efficiency of solar cells, according to computer simulations by researchers at the University of California, Davis, and in Hungary. The work was published Jan. 25 in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Solar cells are based on the photoelectric effect: a photon, or particle of light, hits a silicon crystal and generates a negatively charged electron and a positively charged hole. Collecting those electron-hole pairs generates electric current.

Conventional solar cells generate one electron-hole pair per incoming photon, and have a theoretical maximum efficiency of 33 percent. One exciting new route to improved efficiency is to generate more than one electron-hole pair per photon, said Giulia Galli, professor of chemistry at UC Davis and co-author of the paper.