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black-silicon

The newly developed black silicon has the potential to simplify the manufacturing of solar cells due to the ability of the material to more efficiently collect light.
Image: Barron Group

One of the roadblocks in developing a new, clean energy infrastructure lies in our ability to manufacture solar cells with ease and efficiency. Now, researchers from Rice University may have developed a way to simplify this process.

In Andrew Barron’s Rice University lab, he and postdoctoral student Yen-Tien Lu are developing black silicon by employing electrodes as catalysts.

The typical solar cell is made from silicon. By swapping that regular silicon for black silicon, solar cells gain a highly textured surface of nanoscale spikes that allows for a more efficient collection of light.

This from Rice University:

Barron said the metal layer used as a top electrode is usually applied last in solar cell manufacturing. The new method known as contact-assisted chemical etching applies the set of thin gold lines that serve as the electrode earlier in the process, which also eliminates the need to remove used catalyst particles.

Read the full article here.

After conducting experiments on the reaction of silicon with gold top contacts, the researchers discovered that by removing the catalysts, black silicon appeared.

“It told us the electrochemical reaction is occurring at the metal contact and at the silicon that’s a certain distance away,” Barron said. “The distance is dependent upon the charge-carrying capacity, the conductivity, of the silicon. At some point, the conductivity isn’t sufficient for the charge to carry any further.”

While there is still research to be done before black silicon is commercialized, the researchers believe it has big potential in solar and the future of energy.

The energy infrastructure and renewable resources are constant themes in electrochemical and solid state science and technology. Our podcast series explores these topics with some of the world’s leaders in energy technology, including NREL’s John Turner and PNNL’s Subhash Singhal.

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PS: To get involved in the energy conversation, make sure to get ready for the 228th ECS Meeting in Phoenix, AZ this October. You won’t want to miss the 2015 Electrochemical Energy Summit, where we’ll discuss solar critical issues and renewable energy.

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