Angewandte Chemie International Edition
Copyright © 2014 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim
Angewandte Chemie International Edition ,
December 4, 2012
Improved Performance for Solar Cells
Highly efficient p-type dye-sensitized solar cell with cobalt-based electrolyte
Photovoltaics continues to be an expensive technology. Dye-based solar cells may represent a more cost-effective alternative to traditional solar cells. In these cells, a dye is used in place of a semiconductor to trap the light. Tandem cells consisting of both a conventional n-type and an “inverse” p-type dye-sensitized solar cell seem to be especially promising. In the journal Angewandte Chemie, a team of Australian and German scientists has now reported a significant increase in the degree of efficiency of p-type dye-sensitized solar cells through use of an electrolyte based on a cobalt complex.
Conventional n-type dye-sensitized solar cells use a photoanode, a positive electrode coated with an n-type semiconductor, such as titanium dioxide, and a dye. When light strikes the electrode, the dye molecules become excited and release electrons—negative charges, hence the n in n-type—and “inject” them into the n-type semiconductor. The redox mediator, a component of the electrolyte that can move freely between the electrodes, regenerates the dye by resupplying it with electrons from the counter electrode. In a p-type cell, the process is reversed: a special dye and a p-type semiconductor are located on a photocathode. The light-activated dye “sucks” electrons out of the valence band of a p-type semiconductor such as nickel oxide. This effectively transfers “electron holes”—positive charges, hence the p in p-type—from the dye. The redox mediator takes the electrons from the dye and hands them over to the counter electrode.
A very promising approach for increasing the performance of photovoltaic cells is to combine both an n-type and a p-type dye-sensitized solar cell to make a tandem cell. However, despite some progress, the performance of the p-type cells still significantly lags behind that of their n-type counterparts. An international team of researchers from Monash University and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (Australia), as well as the University of Ulm (Germany), have now achieved a considerable improvement in the efficiency of p-type cells by choosing a different redox mediator.
Researchers working with Udo Bach and Leone Spiccia replaced the previous, commonly used iodide and triiodide system with a well-known cobalt complex, tris(ethylenediamine)cobalt(II)/(III), in which the cobalt can switch between the +2 and +3 oxidation states. The advantage of this system is that the redox potential is significantly lower. As a result, the open-circuit voltage, a critical parameter for solar cells, is doubled and there is still a high enough driving force to ensure rapid and efficient regeneration of the spent dye. These devices achieve an energy-conversion efficiency of 1.3 %, while previous systems attained a maximum of only 0.41 %. The p-type dye-sensitized solar cell with the cobalt-based redox mediator even gave promising performance data under diffuse sunlight experienced on cloudy days.
About the Author
Dr Udo Bach is an Associate Professor at Monash University and holds joint appointments at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, and the Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication. His main specialties are dye-sensitised solar cells and nanofabrication technology, combining conventional 'top-down' approaches with new 'bottom-up' assembly techniques.