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Solid electrolyte developed for dye-sensitized solar cells

Researchers at the Northwestern University have developed a new electrolyte material for dye-sensitized solar cells that are cheaper to produce and could have a longer life span then current models.

While a conventional solar cell uses its semiconductor material to absorb photons and release electrons to produce a current, a Gr"atzel cell or dye-sensitized solar cell uses organic dyes contained in an electrolyte material.

Because a dye-sensitized solar cell uses organic materials, it can be cheaper and more environmentally friendly. However, current models are not as efficient and durable as solar cells using semiconductor material such as silicon or cadmium telluride.

A typical dye-sensitized solar cell doesn't last more than 18 months, making them commercially unviable. One of the major reasons for this is that the electrolytes used tend to leak and corrode the solar cell itself.

Nanotechnology expert Robert P. H. Chang and chemist Mercouri Kanatzidis of Northwestern University sought to solve this problem by developing a new electrolyte material that starts as a liquid but ends up as a solid mass.

The new all solid-state dye-sensitized solar cell is more stable and also has a good conversion efficiency of approximately 10.2 percent. This is close to the highest reported performance for a dye-sensitized solar cell which was 11 to 12 percent.

The Northwestern University cell uses a thin-film compound made up of cesium, tin and iodine (CsSnI3) to replace the liquid electrolyte. Dye-coated nanoparticles are packed into the solar cell, and the liquid is poured in, flowing around the nanoparticles. It then evaporates, resulting in a solid mass.

The CsSnI3 electrolyte also gives the entire cell extra edge as it too is light absorbing, allowing the cell to absorb more light over a wider range of the visible spectrum.

The researchers are going to continue work with the cells and materials to better improve its efficiency, with an eye to building a large array of the solar cells.

The National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and the Initiative for Energy and Sustainability at Northwestern University supported the research. – EcoSeed Staff

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