Sunlight Harvested by Nanotubes

For decades, the development of a cheap and efficient way to convert sunlight into electricity has been at the forefront of research, from the physical sciences to engineering. Usually, devices for harvesting solar energy, called solar cells, are made of semiconductors such as silicon. In these devices, electrical power is generated at the junction between two types of semiconductor material. However, the efficiency of junction-based solar cells has almost reached its theoretical limit, and it is therefore imperative to explore methods for converting sunlight into electricity that do not require semiconductor junctions.

Zhang and colleagues’ work calls attention to a hitherto-unexplored approach: shaping the semiconductors that have high light absorption into nanotubes.

An important but unanswered question is whether the BPVE and the junction-based photovoltaic effect could cooperate in the same solar cell, to boost the overall efficiency. These two effects could harness solar energy in a successive manner. Nevertheless, despite the remaining challenges, Zhang and colleagues’ work provides a possible route towards the design of highly efficient, unconventional solar cells.

The views are presented by Ming-Min Yang and Marin Alexe from the department of Physics, University of Warwick, UK.

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