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Nanowire-Embedded Quantum Dots Break Solar Cell Efficiency Records

An international team of scientists from Sweden, Switzerland, Spain and the US established a process through which quantum dots can self-assemble at optimal locations in nanowires. This discovery might just be the key to improving not only solar cells, but also quantum computing and lighting devices.

A press release by NREL from last week, stated that the so called “quantum-dot-in-nanowire” system can be used in detecting local electric and magnetic fields. In addition, the quantum dots, which are essentially tiny particles of semiconductor material, have the potential to charge converters for better light-harvesting, as in photovoltaic (PV) cells.

The research, done by Jun-Wei Luo, senior researcher at US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) was a reproduction of a study done by Swiss scientists. Using NREL’s supercomputer, Luo was able to demonstrate the functionality of the system. The breakthrough study is published in the latest issue of the journal Nature Materials.

The small size of the quantum dots gives them the optical and electrical properties, which are unique and different from the corresponding bulk material. According to Nanoco Group Plc, as little as one kilogram of the new material would be sufficient to feed commercial scale manufacturing.

The development of these quantum dots was announced last October by the scientists at NREL. They produced the material to fabricate solar PV cells, which exceeded the current solar cell efficiency, and were able to produce 30% more electric current from blue-light-frequency-range photons.

The increase in efficiency was due to the ability of the quantum dots to harvest energy, which otherwise would be lost. The heat loss is minimized, while the energy is funneled into creating more current.

Positioning the quantum dots precisely allows manufacturers to make full use of the materials, providing quantum confinement to electrons and holes at the same time.

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