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All-carbon solar cell  (Source: Stanford University)
Scientists just need to work on its efficiency

Photovolatic devices could get a huge boost from a solar cell made entirely of carbon.

Stanford University researchers, led by Professor of Chemical Engineering Zhenan Bao, have developed an all-carbon solar cell. It could prove to be cheaper and more flexible than traditional silicon solar cells.

Traditional silicon solar cells are not only rigid, but they require costly tools and machines in order to be manufactured. Even in thin film solar cells used today have electrodes made of indium tin oxide, which are scarce and becoming increasingly expensive.

The Stanford team wanted to address these issues and create a solar cell that requires a less expensive manufacturing process, less rare materials and can be used flexibly. The answer was carbon.

"Carbon has the potential to deliver high performance at a low cost," said Bao. "To the best of our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of a working solar cell that has all of the components made of carbon. This study builds on previous work done in our lab."

The all-carbon solar cell has a photoactive layer for absorbing sunlight in between two electrodes. The photoactive layer is made of carbon nanotubes and Buckyballs (ball-shaped carbon molecules that are just one nanometer in diameter). The electrodes, instead of silver and indium tin oxide, are made of graphene (sheets of carbon) and single-walled carbon nanotubes. These carbon nanotubes, which are 10,000 times narrower than a single human hair, have strong light absorption and electrical conductivity properties.

As for manufacturing, the all-carbon solar cell can be made completely with easy coating methods that don't require expensive tools or a lot of steps.

The big downfall to the all-carbon solar cell is that it isn't nearly as efficient as traditional solar cells. It typically absorbs near-infrared wavelengths, offering an efficiency of less than 1 percent compared to commercial solar cells today.

To increase efficiency, the Stanford team is looking into a few different options. One possibility is making the layers smooth for efficient stacking of nanomaterials. Another possibility is using carbon nanomaterials that can absorb more than just one type of wavelength.

Stanford claims this is the first all-carbon solar cell ever made, but MIT researchers recently developed an all-carbon Buckyball and nanotube solar cell. Their research was reported in June of this year.

Source: Stanford University

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RE: So yet
By mmatis on 11/5/2012 7:44:52 AM , Rating: -1
Well, that's why it's called "basic research", and why it isn't done directly by corporations. Sure, a privately-held company may decide to do research that will not pay off for an extended period. But publicly-held corporations generally have to stay within a 5-year window from start to market or their shareholders will revolt. In exceptional situations where the potential payoff is unusually great, they MAY be willing to expand out to a 10-year window. But beyond that with corporate money? Yeah, right!

This actually is one of the few real shortcomings of the US Constitution, which does not put such within the scope of the Federal government...

RE: So yet
By NicodemusMM on 11/5/2012 8:07:27 AM , Rating: 3
Companies may not do the research directly, but they're not prevented from participating by other means such as donations of equipment, facilities, funds, personnel, etc. When combined with other private donations to universities, the problem of funding is less about having the assets as getting the institutions to release said assets.

These research groups are having to fight for funding even though some of the host institutions are sitting on billions in liquid assets. More implicit power to spend via the Constitution would do nothing to resolve that.

RE: So yet
By FITCamaro on 11/5/2012 8:13:01 AM , Rating: 2
There is plenty of research done at colleges that is funded by corporations. They fund it that way because its far cheaper than doing it themselves.

My point though was more on how people act like there's so much out there that's ready for prime time on "green" energy, but in reality its still in the experimental stage.

RE: So yet
By kattanna on 11/5/2012 11:33:10 AM , Rating: 2
My point though was more on how people act like there's so much out there that's ready for prime time on "green" energy, but in reality its still in the experimental stage.

yeppers. I dont think i have come across an article concerning PV that hasnt been a "neat in the lab creation..not so likely in the field" story in years. sadly.

RE: So yet
By Ammohunt on 11/5/2012 3:20:17 PM , Rating: 2
No kidding what ever happened to fuel cells powering laptops using methanol and releasing only water? i was kinda looking forward to that.

"Intel is investing heavily (think gazillions of dollars and bazillions of engineering man hours) in resources to create an Intel host controllers spec in order to speed time to market of the USB 3.0 technology." -- Intel blogger Nick Knupffer

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