Low-cost carbon materials unlock full power of the sun
Dr. Ghada Koleilat envisions a day when nano-sized tubes of carbon could challenge silicon as the main semiconductor in solar cells and other electronic devices. Carbon materials are dramatically smaller, faster and more powerful than conventional silicon chips; they can also harness the full spectrum of sunlight, including wavelengths invisible to the human eye. Conventional solar cells are limited to the visible spectrum, meaning they can theoretically only convert a maximum 33% of the energy they receive into electricity.
Koleilat's goal is to develop carbon-based solar cells that can increase this energy conversion to at least 50%. They developed a simple, fast and inexpensive way to separate the conducting (metal) from the semiconducting carbon nanotubes to produce a larger number of even smaller semiconducting nanotubes that are better able to absorb light. The advancement overcomes a major engineering bottleneck in the development of carbon-based photovoltaic cells for solar energy.
"We're still at least five years from having something that can be commercialized," says Koleilat, who earned her PhD at the University of Toronto. "But if we're successful, these innovative photovoltaic devices could transform the global energy landscape. It would help give Canada's competitive edge in this emerging field, and position the country as a pioneer in renewable energy research."
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