Dye-sensitised solar cells could prove more efficient in low light than silicon solar cells

New record in dye solar panel efficiency

New pigment deposition process increases efficiency of solid-state dye-sensitised solar cells setting a new world efficiency record.

A research team led by Professor Michael Graetzel from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland, has published a paper in Nature, describing the innovative pigment deposition process that increases the dye solar cell (DSC) efficiency by 15 per cent.

“Our research work on solid-state dye sensitised solar cells is now achieving efficiencies exceeding 15 per cent and our cells have been externally validated with a world record of 14.1 per cent,” commented Professor Greatzel, who invented of the dye solar technology technology back in the 1980s.

“At these efficiencies the technology is extremely competitive with conventional solar cells particularly when you consider dye sensitised solar cells do not need perfect sunlight conditions to effectively produce energy,” he said.

Dye-sensitised solar cells, first introduced in 1988 by Greatzel’s team, are low-cost solar cells belonging to the group of thin film solar cells. The technology, sometimes described as ‘artificial photosynthesis’, uses a layer of nano-titania (a pigment used in white paints and tooth paste) and light harvester deposited on glass, metal or polymer substrates.

“The recent breakthroughs in solid-state dye solar cell technology are truly astonishing. This is the dawn of a new age in efficient and affordable renewable energy,” said Richard Caldwell, executive chairman of Dyesol, whose materials have been used during the project.

One of the advantages DSC technology offers over traditional silicon solar panels is the consistent energy output in low-light, dawn, dusk, cloudy, indoor/artificial, and shaded or indirect-light conditions. This means that the cumulative seasonal energy output from DSC over the course of a cloudy autumn, dreary winter, and whole year is much greater.

The two-step deposition process highlighted in the report published in Nature could be easily implemented commercially as it is relatively cheap and convenient for production in mass quantities.

EPFL and Dyesol have been working together for a number of years, exploring opportunities to advance commercialisation of the dye solar cells technology by embedding it onto building products, such as steel roofing and glass building facades. Dyesol has a collaboration with Tata Steel Europe to embed its DSC technology onto Tata's steel roofing products, as well as similar business relationships with Pilkington North America and Timo Technologies to embed DSC technology onto glass building facades and other glass products.

Such technology could virtually turn buildings into active power generators, supplying either the building’s inhabitants or the national grids.

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