Using nanomaterials to get more out of light
Tiny crystals, known as quantum dots, have enabled researchers to achieve a quantum efficiency exceeding 100% in the photocurrent generated in a hybrid inorganic-organic semiconductor. Perovskites are semiconductors that can be used for light-harvesting applications and have demonstrated impressive performances in solar cells, but improvements in photo-conversion efficiency are necessary to take this technology to a broader market.
Light comes in packets of energy known as photons. When a semiconductor absorbs a photon, the electromagnetic energy is transferred to a negatively charged electron and its positively charged counterpart, known as a hole. An electric field can sweep these particles in opposite directions, thereby allowing a current to flow. This is the basic operation of a solar cell. Researchers aim to optimise the quantum efficiency by getting as many electron-hole pairs from the incoming photons as possible.
One cause of inefficiency is if the proton has more energy than it needed to create the electron-hole pair; in these instances, the excess energy is usually lost as heat. But nanomaterials offer a solution — small particles, such as nanocrystals or quantum dots, can convert high-energy photons into more than one electron-hole pair. Jun Yin and Omar Mohammed from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) worked with Yifan Chen and Mingjie Li from Hong Kong Polytechnic University and their colleagues to demonstrate this multiple exciton generation (MEG) in nanocrystals of tin-lead halide perovskite. The research findings were published in Nature Photonics.
“We demonstrated a photocurrent quantum efficiency exceeding 100% by harnessing MEG in the perovskite nanocrystal devices,” Yin said.
Previously, MEG has been observed in perovskite nanocrystals with a large bandgap: that is, those semiconductors that can only absorb high-energy photons. Narrower-bandgap materials present a greater challenge because the excited electron-hole pairs relax, or cool, too fast for them to be extracted in a functioning solar cell device. “Efficient MEG in narrower-bandgap perovskite nanocrystals and verification of their inherent MEG in practical optical devices have not been reported,” Yin said.
Chen, Yin and the team of researchers synthesised a semiconducting material composed of tiny particles of formamidinium tin–lead iodide perovskite — made using small amounts of tin — embedded in tin-free FAPbI. Researchers believe that the introduction of tin helps to slow the ‘cooling’.
“We will be able to further optimise the perovskite nanocrystal by altering its composition to obtain higher MEG performance and improved the light-power conversion,” Yin said.
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