MIT Looks at Solar Cells Made of 2D Materials

MIT researchers are constantly looking for new ways to improve solar cells. This time, a research team led by Jeffrey Grossman, the Carl Richard Soderberg Associate Professor of Power Engineering, has been studying how to use photovoltaic two-dimensional materials to generate electricity.

Grossman says the new approach “pushes towards the ultimate power conversion possible from a material” for solar power. Other scientists have researched two-dimensional materials for a long time now, but there hasn`t been many evaluating their photovoltaic potential. It turns out, he says, “they’re not only OK, but it’s amazing how well they do.”

MIT`s research team has concluded that they can create solar cells out of 2D materials with efficiencies of 1-2 percent. This is not a lot if we compare them to the efficiencies of mono-, polycrystalline and thin film solar panels (typically ten times higher at 10-20%), but the 2D solar cells are only 1 nanometer thick (much smaller than today`s thin film solar panels) Grossman thinks they should be able to stack many of these solar cells to boost the efficiency.

The 2D material that will be used in order to build these solar cells is cheaper than silicon wafers, not to mention the need for raw material is minuscule compared to silicon-based solar panels.

If we compare pound for pound, the 2D solar cells are about 1,000 times more efficient than conventional solar panels. Since the solar cells are incredibly lightweight, potential new applications include space technology and aviation. Another important aspect is that using less material reduces the need of heavy support structures surrounding the solar panels. 

The new discoveries have been made possible through the MIT Energy Initiative. It will be interesting to follow Grossman and his team as they keep looking at how to improve the technology of solar cells with 2D materials.

Source: Nano Letters

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Mathias is currently doing a masters in energy and environmental engineering at NTNU in Norway. In his spare time he runs , a site that focuses on informing and promoting the use of clean, renewable energy technologies and increased energy efficiency.Connect with Mathias on Google+ or send him an email .

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