Air Force

Semi-transparent photovoltaics

New possibilities for thin, wearable electronics and other vital power applications

Materials Energy

Photovoltaics, or solar cells, are a key component in next-generation power applications, but integrating them into more diverse applications has been difficult because the materials that are being used to make those cells are typically thick, opaque, rigid, and heavy. Prior attempts to make thinner, lighter and flexible cells greatly reduced their efficiency, making them impractical for today’s advanced technologies such as flexible electronics and wearable sensors.

Using an inexpensive material called inorganic-organic hybrid perovskite, a team of Air Force researchers has been able to make thin, transparent cells. In the process, a primary problem with the thinning of this material and generation of pinholes has also been addressed by exposing the surface of the solar cell to thiourea. This organic compound acts as a “molecular glue” and introduces favorable interactions on the surface of the light-absorbing layer of the cell. The result is a continuous pinhole-free thin perovskite film that is much more efficient at creating electric power.

These materials are useful not only as solar absorbers in photovoltaic devices but as semiconductors, a class of materials which are used in modern computing and lighting devices. Potential applications include photodetectors, field-effect transistors, and light-emitting diodes, to name only a few.

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