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Carbon-based Solar Cells

Photovoltaic (PV) solar cells using carbon nanotube conductive coatings and circuits are underway to becoming one of the latest alternatives to silicon-based PV cells. Alternatives to the silicon wafer in PV cells are steadily being researched and monitored as the solar power industry continues to rise in quality, popularity, and practicality.

In silicon solar cells, impure N- and P-type silicon cells can be generated to free electrons from their interlocked crystalline structure, resulting in increased electrical currents. Thus far, researchers have had difficulty harnessing comparable electrical potential in nanoparticles. The carbon-based structure, however, helps move electrons from within the semiconductor into an electrode, improving the efficiency of nanotube solar cells. According to Nanowerk.com, researchers have demonstrated that single wall carbon nanotube architecture, when employed to conduct electrons in a PV cell with titanium dioxide, can boost efficiency by a factor of 2.

Nanotubes are microscopic particles touted by the scientific community for bridging bulk materials with molecular structures. Carbon-based nanotubes are inexpensive, can be manufactured easily and quickly, and are much more flexible and lightweight than silicon. Researchers have added carbon nanotubes to titanium oxide, the main ingredient in white paint, to improve solar cell conversion of ultraviolet light into electrons. Since titanium oxide can only absorb ultraviolet light and reflects the majority of visible light, the efficiency of carbon nanotube solar cells is severely limited. Therefore, though they have excellent potential to absorb sunlight and generate electrons, carbon-based solar cells are still far lower in efficiency than silicon-based cells.

Carbon nanotube solar cells are under investigation for several purposes, including potential space applications. It is also believed that thin films of this material on conventional silicon solar cells can boost the overall efficiency.

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