31 May 2012

Breakthrough improves solar panel technology 30 per cent

RMIT University has led an international consortium of universities and the CSIRO in a research breakthrough that improves a solar panel technology's efficiency by at least 30 per cent.

Researchers used dye-sensitised solar cells (DSSCs) rather than the traditional silicon. This dye adsorbs light energy and produces a current that is transferred into a metal oxide, niobia. Niobia is an inexpensive, chemically stable and environmentally friendly material.

The work at RMIT was conducted by PhD student Jian Zhen Ou and supervised by Associate Professor Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh from the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

The four other universities involved were 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.

Associate Professor Kalantar-zadeh said that for the first time, using niobia, they obtained a high conversion efficiency at least 30 per cent higher than those of the traditional DSSCs which had mainly used the metal oxide, titania.

"The key to this huge success lays in structuring niobia into our desired nano-architecture by using a simple, highly-controllable and large-scale producible technique," he said.

"Interestingly, this so-called anodisation technique is widely used as a conventional method in various industries for generating hard coatings and glazed surfaces, but rarely in nano-niobia production.

"Our work suggests that niobia can be used as the star material in DSSCs and provides a viable solution to boost the conversion efficiency to the values that far exceed that of silicon-based solar cells."

The findings were published yesterday in the high-impact journal ACS Nano.

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