With solar energy prices dropping low, scientists at the Sandia National Laboratories and the University of Colorado-Boulder are working to make solar panels even cheaper. Scientists are working to make dye-sensitized solar cells, which are produced through a low cost manufacturing process, more efficient. These solar cells work by allowing specialized dyes to absorb light that can be converted to electrical energy.
Dye-sensitized solar cells have existed since the 1980’s but they have a tendency to be less efficient as the dyes “clump” to semiconductor material hindering the conversion to electrical energy. The researchers on the project hope to make the process more efficient using materials called metalorganic framework materials (MOF’s). MOF’s are extremely small molecules which arrange themselves into structured patterns. They are unique in that they provide a set structure but are porous and derived from organic molecules.
In the development of more efficient dye-sensitized solar cells, MOF’s would be used to provide a framework which would prevent the dye from attaching itself to the semiconductor while allowing the chemical process to continue unhindered. MOF’s could also be used to allow for multiple different dyes to be layered on top of one another. The idea would be that each dye would be sensitive to different portion of the light spectrum, allowing for more light energy to be captured and converted to electrical energy.
Essentially, we believe MOFs can help to more effectively organize the electronic and nano-structure of the molecules in the solar cell. This can go a long way toward improving the efficiency and stability of these assembled devices,” said Sandia materials scientist Erik Spoerke.
Right now the project lives in the realm of the theoretical. Support from the Department of Energy, in the form $1.2 million, and Lockheed Martin may be what the project needs to turn an idea into reality.
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