Solar cells need not only to improve their costs but also their efficiency in order for solar power to replace fossil fuels in years to come. But how can science make solar cells more affordable and much more efficient? The answer may lie in carbon nanotubes.
The current technologies used to create solar cells depend on rare metals such as indium which means that the expected increased demand for solar cells could push the price of these rare metals to extremely high levels making solar cells more expensive.
Many scientists believe that this scenario can be avoided with the help of carbon nanotubes. Earth is very rich in carbon so the carbon nanotubes really have the potential to present themselves as a cost-efficient option, especially as the demand for the technology increases.
Carbon nanotubes have another important advantage over currently used technologies- their flexibility. This flexibility would enable solar cells to be integrated into fabrics and clothing, and even enable portable energy supplies which would widespread the solar energy use.
The researchers from Northwestern University have identified the type of carbon nanotubes that should be used in solar cells production. They believe that metallic nanotubes are the best solution because they are "50 times more effective than semiconducting ones when used as transparent conductors in organic solar cells."
Solar cells are composed of several different layers and the researchers in this study have focused solely on transparent conductor layer that allows light to pass into the cell and electricity to pass out. The next step for researchers will be to examine the other layers of the solar cell to explore also replacing these with carbon-based nanomaterials.