BP and Caltech Research Nanorods for Solar Technology

BP and The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have teamed up in a multi-million dollar research program that explores a more efficient way of producing solar cells that is based on an array of nanorods that could efficiently absorb light along the length of the rods by collecting the electricity generated by sunlight. It could alter the high cost of solar electricity by making it more competitive.

In the initial five-year period of the program, which was announced at the Photovoltaics Summit 2006 in San Diego, BP and Caltech will investigate a concept based on growing silicon by creating arrays of nanorods rather than casting ingots and cutting wafers, which is the current conventional way of producing solar cells. The nanorods are small cylinders of silicon that can be 100 times smaller than a human hair and would be tightly packed in an array like bristles in a brush. Two prominent scientists at Caltech, Dr. Nate Lewis and Dr. Harry Atwater will direct the Caltech solar nanorod program. Dr. Lewis is the George L. Argyros Professor of Chemistry and is an expert in the areas of surface chemistry and photochemistry. Dr. Atwater is the Howard Hughes Professor and Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science and is an expert in electronic and optoelectronic materials and devices. In addition, eight postdoctoral researchers and graduate students will work on the program. Lewis’ group will investigate uses of nanotechnology to create designer solar cell materials, from nanorods to nanowires, in order to change the conventional paradigm for solar cell materials. Atwater’s group will investigate approaches to create silicon-based single junction and compound semiconductor multijunction nanorod solar cells, using vapor deposition synthesis methods that are scaleable to very large areas. According to Dr. Atwater, “Using nanorods as the active elements opens up very new approaches to design and low-cost fabrication of high performance solar cells.”
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