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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.
  • 2017-10-27 08:05:39
  • Article ID: 683717

Plenty of Room at the Top: Breaking through the Sunlight-to-Electricity Conversion Limit

In hybrid materials, "hot" electrons live longer, producing electricity, not heat, in solar cells.

  • Credit: Image courtesy of Xiaoyang Zhu, Columbia University

    In the illustration of a perovskite structure, a “hot” electron is located at the center of the image. Positive molecules (red and blue dumbbells) surround the “hot” electron. The distortion of the crystal structure and the liquid-like environment of the positive molecules (blurred dumbbells at the periphery of the image) screen (yellow circle, partially shown) the “hot” electron. The “shield” protects the hot electron and allows it to survive 1000 times longer than it would in conventional silicon solar cells.

The Science

Solar-excited “hot” electrons are usually wasted as heat in conventional silicon solar cells. In a new type of solar cell, known as a hybrid organic-inorganic perovskite cell, scientists found these “hot” electrons last longer. These hot electrons have lifetimes more than a 1000 times longer than those formed in silicon cells. The rotation of oppositely charged ions plays a key role in protecting “hot” electrons from adverse energy-depleting interactions.

The Impact

This research identified a possible route to dramatically increase the efficiency of solar cells. By slowing the cooling of excited “hot” electrons, scientists could produce more electricity. They could devise cells that function above the predicted efficiency limit, around 33 percent, for conventional solar cells.


Hybrid organic-inorganic lead halide perovskites (HOIP) are promising new materials for use in low-cost solar cells. HOIPs have already been demonstrated in solar cells with solar-to-electricity conversion efficiency exceeding 20 percent, which is on par with the best crystalline silicon solar cells. Research is ongoing to discover why HOIPs work so well for solar energy harvesting and to determine their efficiency limit. A team led by Columbia University has discovered that electrons in HOIPs acquire protective shields that make them nearly invisible to defects and other electrons, which allows the electrons to avoid losing energy. The mechanism of protection is dynamic screening correlated with liquid-like molecular motions in the crystal structure. Moreover, the researchers discovered that the protection mechanism works for electrons with excess energy (with energy greater than the semiconductor band gap); as a result, these so-called “hot” electrons are very long-lived in HOIPs. In a conventional solar cell, such as the silicon cell widely in use today, only part of the solar spectrum is used, and the energy of the “hot” electrons is wasted. Excess electron energy generated initially from the absorption of high-energy photons in the solar spectrum is lost as heat before the electron is harvested for electricity production. For conventional solar cells, this loss is partially responsible for the theoretical efficiency limit of around 33 percent, called the Shockley-Queisser limit. However, the long lifetime of “hot” electrons in HOIPs makes it possible to harvest the “hot” electrons to produce electricity, thus increasing the efficiency of HOIP solar cells beyond the conventional limit.


U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences (growth of macroscopic single-crystal and microplate samples, and time-resolved optical Kerr effect measurements) and the National Science Foundation (photoluminescence experiments).


H. Zhu, K. Miyata, Y. Fu, J. Wang, P.P. Joshi, D. Niesner, K.W. Williams, S. Jin, and X.Y. Zhu, “Screening in crystalline liquids protects energetic carriers in hybrid perovskites.” Science 353, 1409 (2016). [DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf9570]

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Graphene Oxide Nanosheets Could Help Bring Lithium-Metal Batteries to Market

Lithium-metal batteries -- which can hold up to 10 times more charge than the lithium-ion batteries that currently power our phones, laptops and cars -- haven't been commercialized because of a fatal flaw: as these batteries charge and discharge, lithium is deposited unevenly on the electrodes. This buildup cuts the lives of these batteries too short to make them viable, and more importantly, can cause the batteries to short-circuit and catch fire.

United States Department of Energy to Host Multi-Laboratory Cyber Defense Competition

In less than one month, over a hundred college students from across the United States will convene in one of the largest cyber defense competitions in the nation. The event, hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy, will take place on April 6-7, 2018. This event will be simultaneously hosted across three of the Department's national laboratories: Argonne, Oak Ridge and Pacific Northwest. The completion challenges students to respond to a scenario based on a real-world challenge of vital importance: protecting the Nation's energy critical infrastructure from the cyber threat.

Diamonds From the Deep: Study Suggests Water May Exist in Earth's Lower Mantle

A new study, which included experiments at Berkeley Lab, suggests that water may be more common than expected at extreme depths approaching 400 miles and possibly beyond - within Earth's lower mantle. The study explored microscopic pockets of a trapped form of crystallized water molecules in a sampling of diamonds.

Data Dive: How Microbes Handle Poor Nutrition in Tropical Soil

High-performance computing reveals the relationship between DNA and phosphorous uptake.

The Secret Lives of Cells

Supercomputer simulations predict how E. coli adapts to environmental stresses.

The Element of Surprise

In a new study from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Lille in France, chemists have explored protactinium's multiple resemblances to more completely understand the relationship between the transition metals and the complex chemistry of the early actinide elements.

Chemists use abundant, low-cost and non-toxic elements to synthesize semiconductors

Javier Vela of Iowa State University and the Ames Laboratory has worked with two of his graduate students to synthesize a new material for semiconductors. The chemists think the material will work well in solar cells, but without the toxicity, scarcity or costs of other semiconductors.

Turbocharging Fuel Cells with a Multifunctional Catalyst

Zero-emissions cars zipping into a sustainable energy future are just one dream powered by fuel cells. But cell technology has been a little sluggish and fuel prohibitively pricey. This new catalyst could offer a game changer. And there are more developments to come.

Researchers Develop Spectroscopic Thermometer for Nanomaterials

A scientific team led by the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory has found a new way to take the local temperature of a material from an area about a billionth of a meter wide, or approximately 100,000 times thinner than a human hair.

Predicting a New Phase of Superionic Ice

Researchers bring extreme conditions to a supercomputer and discover new insights about our solar system and beyond.

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Jefferson Lab Announces New Accelerator Science Leader

The Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility has announced that Andrei Seryi will become its new associate director for accelerator operations, research and development in June.

First Plasma for New Machine to Study Puzzling Process That Occurs Throughout the Universe

Announcement describes completion of construction of FLARE, a powerful new machine to study magnetic reconnection.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Professor Jian Sun Receives Power Electronics Achievement Award

Jian Sun, professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering and director the New York State Center for Future Energy Systems at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, received the 2017 R. David Middlebrook Outstanding Achievement Award from the IEEE Power Electronics Society (PELS). He was recognized for "contributions to modeling and control of power electronic converters and systems."

FGC Plasma Solutions Wins Top NASA Innovation Award

Argonne Chain Reaction Innovator Felipe Gomez del Campo has received the 2018 NASA iTech award for X-Factor Innovation.

Sandia Researcher Jacqueline Chen Elected to National Academy of Engineering

LIVERMORE, Calif. -- Jacqueline Chen, a distinguished member of the technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories, has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering. Chen is among the 99 new members from around the globe in the 2018 class.Election to the National Academy of Engineering is the highest professional distinction for an engineer in the United States.

PNNL Helps Form International Energy Storage Organization

News Release DALIAN, China -- Energy storage allows power operators across the nation to balance electricity supply and demand instantaneously, affording ratepayers a more resilient power supply.Now the focus on energy storage is global. In January, energy storage experts at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory joined forces with their counterparts around the world to forge the International Coalition for Energy Storage and Innovation, or ICESI.

University Partnership to Help Nevada Scientists Commercialize Discovery

UNLV's Office of Technology Transfer and the Desert Research are partnering to help faculty and students leverage each other's talent and resources to transform inventions into new products and services.

DOE Seeks Industry Partners for HPC Research on Materials in Applied Energy Technologies

The Department of Energy (DOE) today announced a funding opportunity totaling $3 million to support projects between U.S. industry and DOE national laboratories related to improving materials in severe or complex environments through the new High Performance Computing for Materials in Applied Energy Technologies (HPC4Mtls) Program.

Secretary of Energy Rick Perry Announces $30 Million for Small Business Research and Development Grants

Today, U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced that the Department of Energy (DOE) will award 179 grants totaling $30 million to 149 small businesses in 36 states.

Microgrid Coming to Northern California Airport

Designed by the Schatz Energy Research Center at Humboldt State University, the microgrid will generate green electricity, create jobs for local contractors and technicians, and provide an energy lifeline in the event of a natural disaster.

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Unlocking On-Package Memory's Effects on High-Performance Computing's Scientific Kernels

Intuitive visual analytical model better explains complex architectural scenarios and offers general design principles.

Data Dive: How Microbes Handle Poor Nutrition in Tropical Soil

High-performance computing reveals the relationship between DNA and phosphorous uptake.

The Secret Lives of Cells

Supercomputer simulations predict how E. coli adapts to environmental stresses.

It's Not Part of the Problem, but Part of the Solution

Americium(III) is selectively and efficiently separated from europium(III) by an extractant in an ionic liquid.

Buckyball Marries Graphene

Electronic and structure richness arise from the merger of semiconducting molecules of carbon buckyballs and 2-D graphene.

Atomic Movies Explain Why Perovskite Solar Cells Are More Efficient

Tracking atoms is crucial to improving the efficiency of next-generation perovskite solar cells.

Catalysts: High Performance Lies on the Edge

Iron may be more valuable than platinum. Sometimes.

Discovery of a New Microbe that Produces Methane in Oxygenated Soils

Global models may be underestimating net wetland methane emissions.

Researchers Decipher the Structure of a Bacterial Microcompartment

The geometric complexities uncovered provide insights into how these mini-organs get assembled, potentially of interest for fuel production.

CUORE Constrains Neutrino Properties

The CUORE experiment set the tightest limits yet on the rare decay of tellurium-130, providing insights into the nature of neutrinos.


Wednesday March 14, 2018, 02:05 PM

Q&A: Al Ashley Reflects on His Efforts to Diversify SLAC and Beyond

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Thursday February 15, 2018, 12:05 PM

Insights on Innovation in Energy, Humanitarian Aid Highlight UVA Darden's Net Impact Week

University of Virginia Darden School of Business

Friday February 09, 2018, 11:05 AM

Ivy League Graduate, Writer and Activist with Dyslexia Visits CSUCI to Reframe the Concept of Learning Disabilities

California State University, Channel Islands

Wednesday January 17, 2018, 12:05 PM

Photographer Adam Nadel Selected as Fermilab's New Artist-in-Residence for 2018

Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab)

Wednesday January 17, 2018, 12:05 PM

Fermilab Computing Partners with Argonne, Local Schools for Hour of Code

Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab)

Wednesday December 20, 2017, 01:05 PM

Q&A: Sam Webb Teaches X-Ray Science from a Remote Classroom

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Monday December 18, 2017, 01:05 PM

The Future of Today's Electric Power Systems

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Monday December 18, 2017, 12:05 PM

Supporting the Development of Offshore Wind Power Plants

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Tuesday October 03, 2017, 01:05 PM

Stairway to Science

Argonne National Laboratory

Thursday September 28, 2017, 12:05 PM

After-School Energy Rush

Argonne National Laboratory

Thursday September 28, 2017, 10:05 AM

Bringing Diversity Into Computational Science Through Student Outreach

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Thursday September 21, 2017, 03:05 PM

From Science to Finance: SLAC Summer Interns Forge New Paths in STEM

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Thursday September 07, 2017, 02:05 PM

Students Discuss 'Cosmic Opportunities' at 45th Annual SLAC Summer Institute

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Thursday August 31, 2017, 05:05 PM

Binghamton University Opens $70 Million Smart Energy Building

Binghamton University, State University of New York

Wednesday August 23, 2017, 05:05 PM

Widening Horizons for High Schoolers with Code

Argonne National Laboratory

Saturday May 20, 2017, 12:05 PM

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Graduates Urged to Embrace Change at 211th Commencement

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Monday May 15, 2017, 01:05 PM

ORNL, University of Tennessee Launch New Doctoral Program in Data Science

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Friday April 07, 2017, 11:05 AM

Champions in Science: Profile of Jonathan Kirzner

Department of Energy, Office of Science

Wednesday April 05, 2017, 12:05 PM

High-Schooler Solves College-Level Security Puzzle From Argonne, Sparks Interest in Career

Argonne National Laboratory

Tuesday March 28, 2017, 12:05 PM

Champions in Science: Profile of Jenica Jacobi

Department of Energy, Office of Science

Friday March 24, 2017, 10:40 AM

Great Neck South High School Wins Regional Science Bowl at Brookhaven Lab

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Wednesday February 15, 2017, 04:05 PM

Middle Schoolers Test Their Knowledge at Science Bowl Competition

Argonne National Laboratory

Friday January 27, 2017, 04:00 PM

Haslam Visits ORNL to Highlight State's Role in Discovering Tennessine

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Tuesday November 08, 2016, 12:05 PM

Internship Program Helps Foster Development of Future Nuclear Scientists

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Friday May 13, 2016, 04:05 PM

More Than 12,000 Explore Jefferson Lab During April 30 Open House

Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility

Monday April 25, 2016, 05:05 PM

Giving Back to National Science Bowl

Ames Laboratory

Friday March 25, 2016, 12:05 PM

NMSU Undergrad Tackles 3D Particle Scattering Animations After Receiving JSA Research Assistantship

Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility

Tuesday February 02, 2016, 10:05 AM

Shannon Greco: A Self-Described "STEM Education Zealot"

Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

Monday November 16, 2015, 04:05 PM

Rare Earths for Life: An 85th Birthday Visit with Mr. Rare Earth

Ames Laboratory

Tuesday October 20, 2015, 01:05 PM

Meet Robert Palomino: 'Give Everything a Shot!'

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Tuesday April 22, 2014, 11:30 AM

University of Utah Makes Solar Accessible

University of Utah

Wednesday March 06, 2013, 03:40 PM

Student Innovator at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Seeks Brighter, Smarter, and More Efficient LEDs

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Friday November 16, 2012, 10:00 AM

Texas Tech Energy Commerce Students, Community Light up Tent City

Texas Tech University

Wednesday November 23, 2011, 10:45 AM

Don't Get 'Frosted' Over Heating Your Home This Winter

Temple University

Wednesday July 06, 2011, 06:00 PM

New Research Center To Tackle Critical Challenges Related to Aircraft Design, Wind Energy, Smart Buildings

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Friday April 22, 2011, 09:00 AM

First Polymer Solar-Thermal Device Heats Home, Saves Money

Wake Forest University

Friday April 15, 2011, 12:25 PM

Like Superman, American University Will Get Its Energy from the Sun

American University

Thursday February 10, 2011, 05:00 PM

ARRA Grant to Help Fund Seminary Building Green Roof

University of Chicago

Tuesday December 07, 2010, 05:00 PM

UC San Diego Installing 2.8 Megawatt Fuel Cell to Anchor Energy Innovation Park

University of California San Diego

Monday November 01, 2010, 12:50 PM

Rensselaer Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center Announces First Deployment of New Technology on Campus

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Friday September 10, 2010, 12:40 PM

Ithaca College Will Host Regional Clean Energy Summit

Ithaca College

Tuesday July 27, 2010, 10:30 AM

Texas Governor Announces $8.4 Million Award to Create Renewable Energy Institute

Texas Tech University

Friday May 07, 2010, 04:20 PM

Creighton University to Offer New Alternative Energy Program

Creighton University

Wednesday May 05, 2010, 09:30 AM

National Engineering Program Seeks Subject Matter Experts in Energy

JETS Junior Engineering Technical Society

Wednesday April 21, 2010, 12:30 PM

Students Using Solar Power To Create Sustainable Solutions for Haiti, Peru

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Wednesday March 03, 2010, 07:00 PM

Helping Hydrogen: Student Inventor Tackles Challenge of Hydrogen Storage

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Thursday February 04, 2010, 02:00 PM

Turning Exercise into Electricity

Furman University

Thursday November 12, 2009, 12:45 PM

Campus Leaders Showing the Way to a Sustainable, Clean Energy Future

National Wildlife Federation (NWF)

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