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The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2013-10-25 14:00:00
  • Article ID: 609468

ASU, Georgia Tech Create Breakthrough for Solar Cell Efficiency

New atomic layer-by-layer InGaN technology offers perfect crystal

  • Credit: Arizona State University

    The atomic arrangement at a relaxed InGaN/GaN interface. Research at Arizona State University and Georgia Tech show layer-by-layer crystal growth may lead to recording breaking efficiencies in photovoltaic solar cell technology.

Margaret Coulombe

480-727-8934

Margaret.coulombe@asu.edu

Did you know that crystals form the basis for the penetrating icy blue glare of car headlights and could be fundamental to the future in solar energy technology?

Crystals are at the heart of diodes. Not the kind you might find in quartz, formed naturally, but manufactured to form alloys, such as indium gallium nitride or InGaN. This alloy forms the light emitting region of LEDs, for illumination in the visible range, and of laser diodes (LDs) in the blue-UV range.

Research into making better crystals, with high crystalline quality, light emission efficiency and luminosity, is also at the heart of studies being done at Arizona State University by Research Scientist Alec Fischer and Doctoral Candidate Yong Wei in Professor Fernando Ponce’s group in the Department of Physics.

In an article recently published in the journal Applied Physics Letters, the ASU group, in collaboration with a scientific team led by Professor Alan Doolittle at the Georgia Institute of Technology, has just revealed the fundamental aspect of a new approach to growing InGaN crystals for diodes, which promises to move photovoltaic solar cell technology toward record-breaking efficiencies.

Solar energy crystallizes

The InGaN crystals are grown as layers in a sandwich-like arrangement on sapphire substrates. Typically, researchers have found that the atomic separation of the layers varies; a condition that can lead to high levels of strain, breakdowns in growth, and fluctuations in the alloy’s chemical composition.

“Being able to ease the strain and increase the uniformity in the composition of InGaN is very desirable,” says Ponce, “but difficult to achieve. Growth of these layers is similar to trying to smoothly fit together two honeycombs with different cell sizes, where size difference disrupts a periodic arrangement of the cells.”

As outlined in their publication, the authors developed an approach where pulses of molecules were introduced to achieve the desired alloy composition. The method, developed by Doolittle, is called metal-modulated epitaxy. “This technique allows an atomic layer-by-layer growth of the material,” says Ponce.

Analysis of the atomic arrangement and the luminosity at the nanoscale level was performed by Fischer, the lead author of the study, and Wei. Their results showed that the films grown with the epitaxy technique had almost ideal characteristics and revealed that the unexpected results came from the strain relaxation at the first atomic layer of crystal growth.

“Doolittle’s group was able to assemble a final crystal that is more uniform and whose lattice structures match up…resulting in a film that resembles a perfect crystal,” says Ponce. “The luminosity was also like that of a perfect crystal. Something that no one in our field thought was possible.”

The perfect solar cell?

The ASU and Georgia Tech team’s elimination of these two seemingly insurmountable defects (non-uniform composition and mismatched lattice alignment) ultimately means that LEDs and solar photovoltaic products can now be developed that have much higher, efficient performance.

“While we are still a ways off from record-setting solar cells, this breakthrough could have immediate and lasting impact on light emitting devices and could potentially make the second most abundant semiconductor family, III-Nitrides, a real player in the solar cell field,” says Doolittle. Doolittle’s team at Georgia Tech's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering also included Michael Moseley and Brendan Gunning. A patent is pending for the new technology.

The collaboration was made possible by ASU’s Engineering Research Center for Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies (QESST) funded by National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Energy. The center, which brought the two research groups together, is directed by ASU Professor Christiana Honsberg of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Designed to increase photovoltaic electricity and help create devices that are scalable to commercial production, the center has built partnerships with leading solar energy companies and fueled collaborations between many of the notable universities in the U.S., Asia, Europe and Australia. The center also serves as a platform for educational opportunities for students including new college courses, partnerships with local elementary schools and public engagement events to raise awareness of the exciting challenges of harnessing the sun to power our world.

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Ames Lab Scientists' Surprising Discovery: Making Ferromagnets Stronger by Adding Non-Magnetic Element

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory discovered that they could functionalize magnetic materials through a thoroughly unlikely method, by adding amounts of the virtually non-magnetic element scandium to a gadolinium-germanium alloy. It was so unlikely they called it a "counterintuitive experimental finding" in their published work on the research.

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With SLAC's X-ray laser and synchrotron, scientists measured exactly how much energy goes into keeping a crucial chemical bond from triggering a cell's death spiral.

New Efficient, Low-Temperature Catalyst for Converting Water and CO to Hydrogen Gas and CO2

Scientists have developed a new low-temperature catalyst for producing high-purity hydrogen gas while simultaneously using up carbon monoxide (CO). The discovery could improve the performance of fuel cells that run on hydrogen fuel but can be poisoned by CO.

Study Sheds Light on How Bacterial Organelles Assemble

Scientists at Berkeley Lab and Michigan State University are providing the clearest view yet of an intact bacterial microcompartment, revealing at atomic-level resolution the structure and assembly of the organelle's protein shell. This work can help provide important information for research in bioenergy, pathogenesis, and biotechnology.

A Single Electron's Tiny Leap Sets Off 'Molecular Sunscreen' Response

In experiments at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, scientists were able to see the first step of a process that protects a DNA building block called thymine from sun damage: When it's hit with ultraviolet light, a single electron jumps into a slightly higher orbit around the nucleus of a single oxygen atom.

Researchers Find New Mechanism for Genome Regulation

The same mechanisms that separate mixtures of oil and water may also help the organization of an unusual part of our DNA called heterochromatin, according to a new study by Berkeley Lab researchers. They found that liquid-liquid phase separation helps heterochromatin organize large parts of the genome into specific regions of the nucleus. The work addresses a long-standing question about how DNA functions are organized in space and time, including how genes are silenced or expressed.

The Rise of Giant Viruses

Research reveals that giant viruses acquire genes piecemeal from others, with implications for bioenergy production and environmental cleanup.

Grasses: The Secrets Behind Their Success

Researchers find a grass gene affecting how plants manage water and carbon dioxide that could be useful to growing biofuel crops on marginal land.

SLAC Experiment is First to Decipher Atomic Structure of an Intact Virus with an X-ray Laser

An international team of scientists has for the first time used an X-ray free-electron laser to unravel the structure of an intact virus particle on the atomic level. The method dramatically reduces the amount of virus material required, while also allowing the investigations to be carried out several times faster than before. This opens up entirely new research opportunities.


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Chicago Quantum Exchange to Create Technologically Transformative Ecosystem

The University of Chicago is collaborating with the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory to launch an intellectual hub for advancing academic, industrial and governmental efforts in the science and engineering of quantum information.

Department of Energy Awards Six Research Contracts Totaling $258 Million to Accelerate U.S. Supercomputing Technology

Today U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced that six leading U.S. technology companies will receive funding from the Department of Energy's Exascale Computing Project (ECP) as part of its new PathForward program, accelerating the research necessary to deploy the nation's first exascale supercomputers.

Cynthia Jenks Named Director of Argonne's Chemical Sciences and Engineering Division

Argonne has named Cynthia Jenks the next director of the laboratory's Chemical Sciences and Engineering Division. Jenks currently serves as the assistant director for scientific planning and the director of the Chemical and Biological Sciences Division at Ames Laboratory.

Argonne-Developed Technology for Producing Graphene Wins TechConnect National Innovation Award

A method that significantly cuts the time and cost needed to grow graphene has won a 2017 TechConnect National Innovation Award. This is the second year in a row that a team at Argonne's Center for Nanoscale Materials has received this award.

Honeywell UOP and Argonne Seek Research Collaborations in Catalysis Under Technologist in Residence Program

Researchers at Argonne are collaborating with Honeywell UOP scientists to explore innovative energy and chemicals production.

Follow the Fantastic Voyage of the ICARUS Neutrino Detector

The ICARUS neutrino detector, born at Gran Sasso National Lab in Italy and refurbished at CERN, will make its way across the sea to Fermilab this summer. Follow along using an interactive map online.

JSA Awards Graduate Fellowships for Research at Jefferson Lab

Jefferson Sciences Associates announced today the award of eight JSA/Jefferson Lab graduate fellowships. The doctoral students will use the fellowships to support their advanced studies at their universities and conduct research at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab) - a U.S. Department of Energy nuclear physics laboratory managed and operated by JSA, a joint venture between SURA and PAE Applied Technologies.

Muon Magnet's Moment Has Arrived

On May 31, the 50-foot-wide superconducting electromagnet at the center of the Muon g-2 experiment saw its first beam of muon particles from Fermilab's accelerators, kicking off a three-year effort to measure just what happens to those particles when placed in a stunningly precise magnetic field. The answer could rewrite scientists' picture of the universe and how it works.

Seven Small Businesses to Collaborate with Argonne to Solve Technical Challenges

Seven small businesses have been selected to collaborate with researchers at Argonne to address technical challenges as part of DOE's Small Business Vouchers Program.

JSA Names Charles Perdrisat and Charles Sinclair as Co-Recipients of its 2017 Outstanding Nuclear Physicist Prize

Jefferson Science Associates, LLC, announced today that Charles Perdrisat and Charles Sinclair are the recipients of the 2017 Outstanding Nuclear Physicist Prize. The 2017 JSA Outstanding Nuclear Physicist Award is jointly awarded to Charles Perdrisat for his pioneering implementation of the polarization transfer technique to determine proton elastic form factors, and to Charles Sinclair for his crucial development of polarized electron beam technology, which made such measurements, and many others, possible.


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Oxygen: The Jekyll and Hyde of Biofuels

Scientists are devising ways to protect plants, biofuels and, ultimately, the atmosphere itself from damage caused by an element that sustains life on earth.

The Rise of Giant Viruses

Research reveals that giant viruses acquire genes piecemeal from others, with implications for bioenergy production and environmental cleanup.

Grasses: The Secrets Behind Their Success

Researchers find a grass gene affecting how plants manage water and carbon dioxide that could be useful to growing biofuel crops on marginal land.

New Perspectives Into Arctic Cloud Phases

Teamwork provides insight into complicated cloud processes that are important to potential environmental changes in the Arctic.

Mountaintop Plants and Soils to Become Out of Sync

Plants and soil microbes may be altered by climate warming at different rates and in different ways, meaning vital nutrient patterns could be misaligned.

If a Tree Falls in the Amazon

For the first time, scientists pinpointed how often storms topple trees, helping to predict how changes in Amazonia affect the world.

Turning Waste into Fuels, Microbial Style

A newly discovered metabolic process linking different bacteria in a community could enhance bioenergy production.

Department of Energy Awards Six Research Contracts Totaling $258 Million to Accelerate U.S. Supercomputing Technology

Today U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced that six leading U.S. technology companies will receive funding from the Department of Energy's Exascale Computing Project (ECP) as part of its new PathForward program, accelerating the research necessary to deploy the nation's first exascale supercomputers.

Electrifying Magnetism

Researchers create materials with controllable electrical and magnetic properties, even at room temperature.

One Step Closer to Practical Fast Charging Batteries

Novel electrode materials have designed pathways for electrons and ions during the charge/discharge cycle.


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