GaAs Nanowires Get New Tools for Solar Energy

Humans have been thinking about how to better use low-cost solar energy. To find out, AnnaFontcuberta and her team at LSMC Lab are looking for a new way to make solar cells. AnnaFontcuberta's research focuses on the engineering aspects of the new method of fabricating semiconductor structures, using mainly nanotechnology.

The all-round development of semiconductor technology and the excavation of physical properties have made semiconductors closely related to life. Microwave ovens, car electronics, DVD players, computers, etc. are affecting and will change our lives.

LSMC's work is mainly in the nanowire geometry. These needle-like crystals (nanowires) are between 20 and 100 nanometers in diameter and have a length on the order of a few micrometers. The purpose of the study was to improve the performance of these materials themselves, thereby deepening the understanding of the material properties and applying them to develop new methods of preparation. The most noteworthy of all applications is the use of nanowires on solar cells. As the world is buoying with green energy, nanowire solar cells have great social value and prospects for large-scale application. Professor Fontcuberta said: "The nanowire cells we studied are based on gallium arsenide, which is a semiconductor material with very good photoelectric conversion properties."

The earliest applications for gallium arsenide were solar cells on satellites in 1990, and later power supplies on Mars exploration robots. In the LMSC, arsenic and antimony atoms are rearranged and processed, and these atoms self-organize to form a line, which is different from the natural environment of intertwined layers. This novel three-dimensional geometric structure absorbs sunlight better than a planar structure. This absorption efficiency is similar to that of silicon, but it consumes less material. Each vertical nanowire is a separate device and can generate current. Combining small-scale nanowires and fundamentally changing three-dimensional geometries significantly reduces the cost per watt compared to traditional solar cells.

To further increase the absorption of light, Professor Fontcuberta and his research team are optimizing this solution. For example, gallium arsenide nanowires are combined with other nanoscale materials in both lateral and longitudinal directions. One example is the use of indium arsenide quantum dots implanted on the nanowires to produce a similar catalytic effect, thereby enhancing light absorption efficiency. Nanowire solar cells are a typical example of third-generation batteries, not only because of their small size and versatility, but also because they can significantly reduce costs. Fontcuberta said: "Although research has already achieved very good results, large-scale commercial use of nanowire batteries for at least 10 years, but this is LMSC's goal."

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