Nanopatterns Improve Thin-Film Solar Cells

By Kate Greene on October 19, 2009

Any given solar-cell technology has drawbacks and advantages. Thin-film solar cells, for instance, require less material than traditional solar cells, and are therefore cheaper, lighter, and flexible. And if those thin films are made with amorphous silicon, the cost is further reduced. The problem, however, is that thin-film solar cells made of amorphous silicon tend to have extremely low efficiencies compared to thicker, crystalline silicon photovoltaics.

But now, research from Caltech shows that it's possible to increase the efficiency of thin-film amorphous silicon cells 37 percent--from 4.5 percent efficiency to 6.5 percent, which is still significantly lower than commercial crystalline silicon cells that achieve efficiencies of more than 30 percent--by simply adding a pattern of nanoscale holes to the electrical contact on the back side of cells. Importantly, the research, led by Harry Atwater, professor of applied physics and materials science at Caltech, appears to be practical for scaling up to large-scale production of the cells.

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