31 and a half

Quantum-dot photovoltaics set new record for efficiency in such devices, could unlock new uses.

Solar-cell technology has advanced rapidly, as hundreds of groups around the world pursue more than two dozen approaches using different materials, technologies, and approaches to improve efficiency and reduce costs. Now a team at MIT has set a new record for the most efficient quantum-dot cells — a type of solar cell that is seen as especially promising because of its inherently low cost, versatility, and light weight.

While the overall efficiency of this cell is still low compared to other types — about 9 percent of the energy of sunlight is converted to electricity — the rate of improvement of this technology is one of the most rapid seen for a solar technology. The development is described in a paper, published in the journal Nature Materials, by MIT professors Moungi Bawendi and Vladimir Bulović and graduate students Chia-Hao Chuang and Patrick Brown.

The new process is an extension of work by Bawendi, the Lester Wolfe Professor of Chemistry, to produce quantum dots with precisely controllable characteristics — and as uniform thin coatings that can be applied to other materials. These minuscule particles are very effective at turning light into electricity, and vice versa. Since the first progress toward the use of quantum dots to make solar cells, Bawendi says, “The community, in the last few years, has started to understand better how these cells operate, and what the limitations are.” . . . .