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SPIE Professional July 2014

Shiny quantum dots may turn house windows into solar panels

By Matt Peach

Logo for Photonics for a Better World

A house window that doubles as a solar panel could be on the horizon, thanks to recent quantum-dot work by researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US in collaboration with scientists from University of Milano-Bicocca (UNIMIB) in Italy.

Their work, published earlier this year in Nature Photonics, demonstrates that superior light-emitting properties of quantum dots can be applied in solar energy by helping more efficiently harvest sunlight.

"The key accomplishment is the demonstration of large-area luminescent solar concentrators that use a new generation of specially engineered quantum dots," said lead researcher Victor Klimov of the Center for Advanced Solar Photophysics at Los Alamos. Quantum dots are ultra-small bits of semiconductor matter that can be synthesized with nearly atomic precision via modern methods of colloidal chemistry.

A luminescent solar concentrator (LSC) is a photon-management device, representing a slab of transparent material that contains highly efficient emitters such as dye molecules or quantum dots. Sunlight absorbed in the slab is re-radiated at longer wavelengths and guided toward the slab edge equipped with a solar cell.


Quantum dots are embedded in the plastic matrix and capture sunlight to improve solar-panel efficiency.
Courtesy Los Alamos Lab.
LUMINESCENT SOLAR CONCENTRATOR AS LIGHT HARVESTER

Sergio Brovelli, a faculty member at UNIMIB and a co-author of the paper, explained, "The LSC serves as a light-harvesting antenna which concentrates solar radiation collected from a large area onto a much smaller solar cell, and this increases its power output. LSCs are especially attractive because in addition to gains in efficiency, they can enable new interesting concepts such as photovoltaic windows that can transform house facades into large-area energy-generation units."

Because of highly efficient, color-tunable emission and solution processability, quantum dots are attractive materials for use in inexpensive, large-area LSCs. To overcome a nagging problem of light reabsorption, the Los Alamos and UNIMIB researchers developed LSCs based on quantum dots with artificially induced large separation between emission and absorption bands, known as a large Stokes shift.

These "Stokes-shift-engineered” quantum dots represent cadmium selenide/cadmium sulfide (CdSe/CdS) structures in which light absorption is dominated by an ultra-thick outer shell of CdS, while emission occurs from the inner core of a narrower-gap CdSe.

Los Alamos researchers created a series of thick-shell (so-called "giant") CdSe/CdS quantum dots, which were incorporated by their Italian partners into large slabs (sized in tens of centimeters across) of polymethylmethacrylate. While being large by quantum dot standards, the active particles are still tiny, only about hundred angstroms across.

QUANTUM DOTS USED FOR NEW DISPLAYS

Quantum dots are ultra-small bits of semiconductor matter that can be synthesized with nearly atomic precision via modern methods of colloidal chemistry.

Their emission color can be tuned by simply varying their dimensions. Color tunability is combined with high emission efficiencies approaching 100%.

These properties have recently become the basis of a new technology — quantum-dot displays — employed, for example, in the newest generation of the Kindle Fire e-reader.

In a new SPIE.TV video, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab director Paul Alivisatos demonstrates the Kindle Fire quantum-dot display.

PHOTONICS FOR A BETTER WORLD SERIES IS 5 YEARS OLD

SPIE Professional launched its "Photonics for a Better World" series in the SPIE member magazine five years ago.

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DOI: 10.1117/2.4201407.10

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