Printable Tandem Solar Cells: The Next Revolution in Solar Energy
Funding from the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative will help catalyze the development of next-generation solar cells at UW
The cost of electricity from new solar cell installations is
starting to compete with electricity from new coal and nuclear plants in sunny
locations. Thanks to research at the University of Washington, the solar cells of
the near future might be printed from inks and reach efficiencies more than
double that of today’s typical solar cells, reducing the cost of electricity to
below the level of even natural gas, the cheapest fossil fuel available now.
They may even be able to compete with the low cost electricity from
hydroelectric generation in cloudiest of locations in the Pacific Northwest.
UW professors Hugh Hillhouse and Alex Jen have been studying
the factors that influence the cost of solar energy. The major factors that contribute
to the cost of electricity from present day solar cells are the efficiency in
converting sunlight to electricity, the cost of processing the materials and fabricating
the devices, and the cost of assembling and installing solar cell systems.
for high-efficiency and low-cost, Hillhouse and Jen have developed a method to fabricate a tandem, or “stacked,” solar cell by printing inks that yield materials with high bandgap and low bandgap on top of each other. The two materials work in tandem to generate more voltage and power than can be created with either material by itself.
In particular, working with the UW Center for
Commercialization, Hillhouse has patented unique device architectures that may
allow these solar cells to reach 30% efficiency. By comparison current-day
low-cost polycrystalline silicon solar modules are around 15% efficient. In
addition, Jen has patented new materials and interface chemistry that allow key
layers in the tandem to be printed. Working together, the team hopes to be able
to print a new generation of high-efficiency low-cost solar cells.
initial research, funded in part by the UW Clean Energy Institute, helped the team
win $1.5 million of funding from the Next Generation Photovoltaics 3 Program,
which is part of the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative. The award
was announced today at the Solar Power International conference
in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Photo: Photovoltaic inks are use to print solar cells on a bench-top roll-to-roll coater at the University of Washington