Nanowires and quantum dots combine for more efficient photovoltaics

by | Feb 28, 2013

A group from MIT have demonstrated a method to produce extremely efficient zinc oxide/quantum dot based photovoltaics.

Solar cells based on colloidal quantum dots (QDs) could provide an inexpensive, solution-processed alternative to traditional silicon and thin-film photovoltaics. The highest-performing QD photovoltaic (QDPV) devices today employ a planar heterojunction between a wide-bandgap n-type metal oxide (ZnO or TiO2) layer and a film of p-type lead sulfide (PbS) QDs. Despite rapid advances in recent years, however, planar devices remain limited by a fundamental trade-off between light absorption and charge collection.

Now, new work from researchers at MIT has shown that vertically-aligned ZnO nanowires can decouple absorption from collection: the nanowires penetrate into the QD film and serve as highly-conductive channels for extracting photogenerated electrons from deep within the film, boosting the output current by 50% and the cell efficiency by 35% over planar devices. The demonstrated solar power conversion efficiency of 4.9% is among the highest reported for ZnO-based QDPVs.

The research shows the integration of solution-grown 1-D nanostructures with PbS QDs to form the first ZnO/PbS bulk heterojunction QD solar cell. The nanostructured architectures can substantially improve QDPV performance, and the simple, low-temperature, bottom-up growth process that the group demonstrate can produce nanowire alignment and solar cell performance matching that of top-down synthetic processes, with the added advantage of compatibility with glass and flexible plastic substrates.