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Scientists use powerful supercomputer to enhance efficiency of solar technology: 'A different way to go'

"Our paper might be interesting for the larger research community."

"Our paper might be interesting for the larger research community."

Photo Credit: iStock

Scientists around the world are working on ways to make solar cells — the technology that captures energy from the sun and converts it into electricity — work more efficiently in an attempt to hasten the transition away from dirty, polluting energy sources such as gas and oil. 

Now, researchers in Germany have used a powerful supercomputer to design a new way of improving efficiency.

Professor Wolf Gero Schmidt and postdoctoral researcher Dr. Marvin Krenz, of the University of Paderborn, used the High Performance Computing Center Stuttgart's Hawk supercomputer to simulate how excitons — bound pairings of an electron and an electron hole — could be controlled and moved within solar cells. In the process, they discovered that certain defects strategically inserted into the system could improve efficiency.

"Exciton transfers are ubiquitous and extremely important processes, but often poorly understood," the scientists wrote in the abstract of their study, published in Physical Review Letters. "Dangling bonds, intuitively expected to hinder the exciton transfer, actually foster it. This suggests that defects and structural imperfections at interfaces may be exploited for excitation transfer."

From there, Schmidt, Krenz, and their team focused on designing solar cells with a molecule-thin layer of tetracene, an organic semiconductor material, to help capture some of the excess energy that the commonly used silicon cannot.

While much of the research around maximizing efficiency in solar cells focuses on combining silicon with perovskite, dubbed a "miracle material" for solar energy capture, the research from the University of Paderborn team shows that there may be more than one way to skin a cat.

"Our paper might be interesting for the larger research community because it points out a different way to go when it comes to designing these systems," Krenz said.

However the next most efficient solar cell is designed, more research from scientists can only be a good thing, as each new discovery builds on the previous one. 

For people who install rooftop solar panels, more efficient panels would mean that they could harvest more clean, renewable energy themselves and rely less on the dirty energy from gas and oil provided by power companies — reducing energy bills in the long run and helping the planet at the same time.

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