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Engineering

Research project: Using photonics to improve the capture of solar radiation

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This project aims to enhance the operation of solar cells by trapping fluorescent light in the waveguiding modes of dielectric structures – or directly in solar cells.

Project Overview

Photonics (in particular, photonic crystals and the know-how associated with light propagation in optical waveguides) offers huge opportunities for photovoltaics, by providing a means of effective trapping of sunlight in thin dielectric or semiconductor structures. A simple example is light trapping by textured solar cell surface which is now applied routinely on a commercial scale. A more sophisticated embodiment of this idea is a fluorescent collector (FC) which, in the shape of a fluorescent plastic plate, absorbs light through the (large) front face and guides the emitted light towards a solar cell at the edge.

Fig 1
Fig 1

The resulting concentration of sunlight can help reduce significantly the area of solar cells, and therefore the cost. Relative to their geometric counterparts, FCs have the advantage that they can concentrate also diffuse sunlight.

Our research aims to apply ideas from photonics to improve the efficiency of FCs (currently at 20-30%). We have shown theoretically the FCs can be 90% efficient but, clearly, there is still much work to do ! The potential reward is a scheme where light is not collected by an external structure but uses photonics for efficient trapping of light directly in the solar cell. The operation of such a device would be governed principally by the photonic bandgap (rather than the electronic bandgapof the semiconductor). Our results show that the optimum efficiency of such a photonic bandgap solar cell can match (or even slightly exceed !) the ideal efficiency of a standard wafer based cell, but with a thickness of only 1 micrometer!

Related research groups

Energy and Climate Change
Engineering Materials

Publications

Key Publications

Staff

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