Producing viable electricity from sunlight
The sun provides much more safe, clean renewable energy than we need to power our planet—if we could only figure out how it can be efficiently harnessed. That’s the goal of Dr. Timothy Kelly, Canada Research Chair in Photovoltaics, who is working on a different approach to the solar cells that are the most direct way to produce electricity from sunlight.
Silicon-based photovoltaics currently in use are expensive to manufacture, which limits their adoption. Kelly is working to overcome this hurdle through the use of organic photovoltaics, which are dramatically cheaper to produce but are also much less powerful. Currently, the best organic versions work at only about 8-12 per cent efficiency and are no better than lower-end inorganic solar cells.
Kelly is working to overcome two major challenges that stand in the way of the next generation of organic photovoltaics: Better light absorption in the near-infrared range, where much of the sun’s output resides, and more efficient collection of the electricity generated by the sunlight.
To achieve all this, Kelly is looking to develop new silver nanostructures (objects sized between molecular and microscopic length scales) for better light absorption. The nanostructured solar cell he’s aiming to create will be designed to absorb maximum light while still providing a clear pathway to deliver the resulting electricity.
Kelly’s work to improve the efficiency of organic photovoltaics will result in a technology that provides safe, clean and renewable energy.