Energy and the Physical Sciences: Semiconductor III-V Quantum-Dot Solar Cells on Silicon Substrates

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Electrical and Electronic Engineering


To help combat climate change, the UK has a target to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. This is an enormous task requiring changes to energy generation and supply. To limit the impact on scarce natural resources and the environment, these reductions need to be delivered by providing affordable green energy. The proposed programme will address this very target by developing high-efficiency and low-cost solar cells by growing III-V compound semiconductor self-organised structures on cheap and plentiful silicon. This proposal directly contributes to development of new solar materials and devices to enable the UK to lead in this priority area.

The widespread implementation of photovoltaics (PV) [the conversion of sunlight into voltage and therefore power] and solar cells as one means of reaching sustainable energy production for the planet will require vast areas of semiconductor materials to be structured into PV cells in order to capture the power of sunlight. There are two general approaches taken: either to use very large area, low-cost and low-efficiency semiconductor materials (such as organic materials) or to use small-area highly-efficient but expensive semiconductor materials and concentrate the light into the small-area, Concentrator Photovoltaics (CPV). The cost of the housing is a significant cost of the PV cell and therefore making the material cheaper for the large area PV does not improve cost below a certain value. The efficiency of the CPV cells is being improved continuously by improved design, growth and fabrication. Experimentally III-V compound semiconductor CPV cells have recently achieved efficiencies of >40% making them the highest efficiency PV available in any technology. Further increase of efficiency for CPVs is the key for utilizing solar energy worldwide.

There are two main design approaches to inorganic III-V semiconductor CPV solar cells: Multi-jumction SCs (MJSCs) and intermediate band solar cells (IBSCs). In MJSCs a number of semiconductor material junctions are connected in-series, each designed to efficiently absorb a section of the solar spectrum appropriate to its bandgap with the largest bandgap material placed at the front and the smallest bandgap material placed at the back. A single junction SC has a maximum predicted efficiency of 30% while a double-junction comprised of two optimised bandgaps increases the predicted efficiency to 41%. Much effort has gone into designing a number of MJSCs with an increased number of junctions. Intense effort is going into investigating materials to absorb near the peak of the spectrum around 1.0 eV. We propose to use 1.0-eV bandgap Quantum Dots (QDs) as a solution for this. A QD is one semiconductor embedded into another and arises from self-organised growth. QDs enable material combinations to be grown together that would not normally occur in a planar environment as strain is incorporated into the interface-this allows novel materials to be combined in a QD system opening up new material combinations and allowing these materials to be grown on silicon using only a thin germanium sandwich layer.

In IBSCs an intermediate energy band (IB) is introduced into the energy gap of the single semiconductor material junction introducing three possible optical transitions. The photo-generated carriers in the intermediate level must only link to the host material through optical transitions for the IBSC to function correctly. The IBSC with one IB level is predicted to have ultra-high conversion efficiency up to 63% while increasing the number of IB levels up to 4 is predicted to increase efficiencies up to 80%. However these high efficiencies are not observed experimentally. We will investigate using QD systems to make IBSCs.

We will exploit the advantages of both QD technology and germanium-on-silicon substrates to develop the low-cost and high-efficiency III-V/Si solar cells of both MJSC and IBSC design.

Planned Impact

There is hardly a bigger global problem than that of sustaining a supply of energy as our supplies of oil and gas dwindle. With the addition of climate change and the UK governmen's commitment to reduce carbon emissions the impact of research into renewable green energy is very important. This proposed programme will address this very target by developing low-cost and high-efficiency solar cells using III-V QDs and GeOI/Si substrates. This proposal directly contributes to the development of new solar materials and devices to enable the UK to lead in this priority energy area. Furthermore, our research programme lies at the Materials for Energy Applications and Photonic Materials and Metamaterials, both themes explicitly supported by EPSRC, and is a response to the EPSRC special call; Encouraging physical sciences research to meet energy needs.

The impact of the increasing cost of oil and gas is affecting the economic growth of the UK and this effect is expected to increase. Low cost energy solutions are required for the UK economy to grow, requiring research into this area. IPR generated in this area, research and development of the production of PV, and the training of skilled workers in this area will contribute to economic growth.

The strong UK materials science base in universities could be expected to make a significant contribution to efficient PV research and development. This project exploits the proposers' previous research in material science and devices to address the new area of PV and solar cells. The proposers have already made contributions in this area spun-off from from previous research that addressed the design, growth, fabrication and testing of optical emitters such as lasers. The PDRAs and PhD student working on this project will contribute to a new generation of experts in this area.


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Description We have found that the position of the Intermediate Band in an Intermediate Band Solar Cell is key to the efficiency of such a device. We have quantified this (modelling the efficiency as a function of energy difference from the optimum position) and have examined how strain and compositional effects/alloying can be used to tune the position of the intermediate band to maximize the efficiency. We have also examined how differences in sizes of the quantum dots effect the position of the intermediate band and how this disorder affects the efficiency.
Exploitation Route Prof Huiyun Liu and others could grow these quantum dots systems.
Recently output from this work has resulted in a new design for a hot carrier solar cell which will be proposed in a new EPSRC grant.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Energy

Description invited talk at 2D meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact invited talk on dilute nitride and dilute bismide materials to an international audience of scientists/engineers working in 2D materials . Conference organised by Chinese 1000 talent programme.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description invited talk at EU summerschool in Spain 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact my talk was on Modelling Quantum Dot Materials as candidates for Intermediate Band Solar Cells . It was for first year PhD students across Europe
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016