The RTI International solar cells are developed from solutions of semiconductor particles, known as colloidal quantum dots, and have a power conversion efficiency that is competitive to traditional cells at a fraction of the cost.
Solar energy has the potential to be a renewable, carbon-neutral source of electricity but the high cost of photovoltaics, the devices that convert sunlight into electricity, has slowed widespread adoption of this resource.
Preliminary analysis of the material costs of the technology show that it can be produced for less than 20 dollars per square meter, 75 per cent less than traditional solar cells.
"Solar energy currently represents less than 1 per cent of the global energy supply, and substantial reductions in material and production costs of photovoltaics are necessary to increase the use of solar power," said Ethan Klem, research scientist at RTI and co-principal investigator of the project.
"This technology addresses each of the major cost drivers of photovoltaics and could go a long way in helping achieve that goal," Klem added.
"The efficiency of these devices is primarily limited by the amount of sunlight that is absorbed.
There are many well-known techniques to enhance absorption, which suggests that the performance can increase substantially," said Jay Lewis, a senior research scientist at RTI and the project's other principal investigator.
Unlike traditional solar cells, these cells can be processed at room temperature, further reducing input energy requirements and cost.
In addition to being low-cost, the new cells have several other key benefits, including higher infrared sensitivity, which allows the cells to utilize more of the available solar spectrum for power generation.
RTI is an independent, nonprofit institute that provides research, development, and technical services to government and commercial clients worldwide.
The technology was recently featured in a paper published in Applied Physics Letters.