Prashant Kamat presents work on low-cost solar cell alternatives

Author: Shadia Ajam

Prashant Kamat

Recently Prashant V. Kamat, The Rev. John A. Zahm, C.S.C, Professor of Science, gave a presentation on low-cost solar-cell alternatives at the annual American Chemical Society meeting in Indianapolis.

Scientists have been searching for ways to make low-cost solar cells, photovoltaic devices that convert light to electricity. Solar-cell technology isn’t new, but the high cost of producing the technology makes it difficult for wide use.

Kamat’s research has focused around quantum dots, an approach that takes advantage of the ease of making, tuning, and processing light-absorbing nanocrystals of semiconductors with colloidal chemical methods.

“Quantum dots’ simplicity and solution-phase chemistry eventually may make it possible for solar-cell manufacturers to replace clean rooms and sophisticated solar-cell manufacturing equipment with simple bench top processes,” said Kamat.

“These materials give us a competitive edge because of their convenience and low cost,” he said.

Kamat’s group explained how the production of solar cells is within our grasp, in part, by painting a surface with photovoltaic “ink.”

To test that idea, Kamat and his group primed TiO2 nanoparticles coated with CdS and CdSe, painted the solution onto conducting glass, and briefly heated it, creating a photo­active electrode. To evaluate the procedure, they then incorporated the painted glass into photoelectrochemical cells and found that its efficiency in converting light to electricity was just over one percent.

Kamat notes that “the low cost of the method may make it attractive for generating power on metal rooftops, shipping containers, and other sun-soaked metal surfaces that can serve as a solar-cell electrode in applications in which typical photovoltaics are too expensive.”

Solar-cell technology is an emerging and rapidly growing area of study. It’s difficult to forecast which technologies will be successful. However, through researchers like the College of Science’s Kamat the prospects of these technologies continue to look optimistic.

The work Kamat presented was published online at C&EN, Chemical and Engineering News.