Making Any Semiconductor a Solar CellCategory: Science & Technology
Posted: July 27, 2012 01:01PM
Modern solar cells are made of semiconductors which can be doped to create a p-n junction. Unfortunately these semiconductors, such as silicon, can be expensive and even toxic to work with, but they are what we have. Now researchers at Berkeley Lab and University of California, Berkeley have discovered a way to induce p-n junctions in any semiconductor without chemically doping them.
Screening-engineered Field-effect Photovoltaics (SFPVs) use an external electric field to affect the charge carriers within semiconductors to create the junctions. Normally this is accomplished by chemically doping the semiconductor, which can involve replacing specific atoms or molecules in the material with something else. Not all materials are easily doped though, including many semiconductors that are not as rare or expensive as those currently in use for solar cells.
Obviously the potential for this technology is to enable the production of cheaper and safer solar cells that are based on currently unusable materials. The researchers also demonstrated it is possible to power the electric field with the solar cell, instead of being reliant on an external power source, which will be very important if this technology is to be used for power production.