New solar cell breakthrough hits record efficiency

Artistic illustration of the developed four-tandem organic solar cell ( ICFO/Francisco Bernal-Texca). Credit: Francisco Bernal-Texca /ICFO.

Scientists at ICFO have made a big leap in solar technology, creating a new type of solar cell that turns sunlight into electricity with 16.94% efficiency—a new record for this kind of device.

This new solar cell stacks two different layers on top of each other in what’s called a four-terminal tandem configuration, allowing it to capture more of the sun’s energy than ever before.

Traditional solar cells have a single layer for catching sunlight, but they miss out on a lot of energy.

The latest design uses two layers, each tuned to grab different parts of sunlight. The top layer gets the high-energy bits, and the bottom layer picks up the lower-energy parts, including infrared light that’s usually missed.

This way, the cell can use a lot more of the sun’s power.

One of the coolest parts of this new solar cell is its ultrathin silver electrode, only 7nm thick (that’s really tiny!).

This special layer sits between the two solar cell layers and plays a huge role in their performance.

It’s so thin that it’s almost see-through, which helps let light through to the bottom layer without losing much energy. Getting this electrode just right was a key step in making the cell work so well.

To come up with this design, the ICFO team tested different materials for each layer to see which ones worked best.

They chose a combination that allowed the top layer to capture the sun’s high-energy light and another that let the bottom layer absorb infrared light.

Then, they carefully planned out how to put everything together, including the super-thin silver layer, to make sure the solar cell would work as efficiently as possible.

Their hard work paid off. The new solar cell can turn 16.94% of the sunlight that hits it into electricity, which is a big deal because the best previous design for a cell like this was only 6.5% efficient.

The team’s breakthrough means we’re getting better at using the sun’s energy, which is good news for the planet.

The researchers believe their work could also help in making fuel from sunlight, like splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen or turning CO2 into useful chemicals. They’re looking to improve their design even further, aiming to make solar power an even bigger part of our energy mix.

This breakthrough isn’t just about setting records; it’s about making solar power more efficient and versatile, opening up new possibilities for clean, renewable energy.