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New technology could dramatically lower cost of PV

Researchers have developed a new technology that would allow solar cells to be made from almost any semiconductor material.

At present, PV solar panels rely on relatively expensive semiconductor materials (like silicon or cadmium telluride) to convert sunlight to energy. But this new discovery from researchers at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California Berkeley could mean that a wider range of conductive materials could be used to make PV cells.

“Solar technologies today face a cost-to-efficiency trade-off that has slowed widespread implementation,” said lead researcher Alex Zettl, who is affiliated with both Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and UC Berkeley’s Physics Department.

“Our technology reduces the cost and complexity of fabricating solar cells and thereby provides what could be an important cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative that would accelerate the usage of solar energy,” he continued.

The technology is called “screening-engineered field-effect photovoltaics,” or SFPV, and works by changing the concentration of charge-carriers in a semiconductor material.


Alex Zettl and Will Regan. Photo by Roy Kaltschmidt at LBL.gov


This development means that cheaper materials, like metal oxides and sulfides, could be used to generate the photovoltaic effect.

“It’s time we put bad materials to good use,” said Zettl. “Our technology allows us to sidestep the difficulty in chemically tailoring many earth abundant, non-toxic semiconductors and instead tailor these materials simply by applying an electric field.”

The research paper, titled “Screening-Engineered Field-Effect Solar Cells,” was published in the journal Nano Letters, and was co-authored by William Regan, Steven Byrnes, Will Gannett, Onur Ergen, Oscar Vazquez-Mena and Feng Wang.

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