RMIT University has led an international group of universities and the CSIRO in a research breakthrough that improves the efficiency of solar panel technology by at least 30 per cent.
This breakthrough means that low-cost solar panels will become more viable and marketable than the expensive silicon solar cells.
Dye-sensitised solar cells (DSSCs) are currently used in handheld appliances as they can produce power at a low intensity light.
“This increase in efficiency can bring the DSSCs outside the offices, on the roof, as a commercially viable as a great competition for silicon solar cells in the near future,” Associate Professor Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh said.
DSSCs absorb light energy and produce a current which is then transferred into a metal oxide - niobia.
“The light excite electrons in the dye, niobia scavenge them and produces the current for the solar cell. Using niobia also allows the electrons to be excited to the higher levels of energy hence producing larger voltages,” he said.
Niobia is an inexpensive, chemically stable and environmentally friendly material.
“The first step is about making highly ordered nano structures of niobia (oxide of niobium),” he said.
“The structure is extremely porous - so it can absorb lots of dyes that has the responsibility of absorbing light."
“The combination of a high current (highly porous surface) and a large voltage (niobia) produces a large power.”
Associate Professor Kalantar-zadeh said the 30 per cent solar improvement is in comparison to the titanium oxide of solar cells, and not the current technology of silicon solar cells.
“We still several years ahead of us to surpass silicon solar cell efficiency - but now we have the tool,” he said.
The work at RMIT was conducted by PhD student Jian Zhen Ou and led in conjunction with the US Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); University of California, Los Angeles, (UCLA); the University of New South Wales and the Korean Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology.
Mr Ou has received multiple awards during his PhD program including the 2011 Chinese Government Award for Outstanding Student Abroad.
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