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Nanotechnology Based Solar Cells

Nano Solar CellsUC Berkeley Photo

A panel of eight plastic solar cells based on inorganic nanorods and semiconducting polymers. The shiny ovals are the aluminum
black electrodes of the individual solar cells.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have discovered a nanomaterial that will help harness solar energy in a way that promises to be more cost-effective than traditional technologies. The discovery, reported in the journal Science in March 2002, involves hybrid nanocomposites, incorporating inorganic nanorods into organic semiconductor films. The elements can be mass-produced under ambient conditions without complicated or expensive steps. These crystals, more properly known as nanocrystals because they are a nanometer or billionth of a meter in size, are chemically pure clusters of 100 to 100,000 atoms, about 75,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. The report provides details on how to make quantum rods of this material in a reliable size and get them to pack together. The quantum rods can be used as active elements in solar cells. Dr. Paul Alivisatos and his team at the University of California, Berkeley pioneered the technique with funding by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Dr. Alivisatos is also Director of the Materials Sciences Division at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He is a Scientific Founder of the company Nanosys, Inc. that is further developing the technology for commercial applications. Nanosys recently announced a collaborative agreement with Matsushita Electric Works to develop next generation solar cells for the building construction market in Asia.

The discovery could lead to the creation and production of solar cells at high volume and low cost. The technology could find application in advanced roofing panels. It could also be part of a whole-house solution that addresses goals relating to energy efficiency, durability, and improving the constructability of houses. There is a potential application for existing buildings on roofs having a southern exposure.

Current Status of Technology

Matsushita Electric Works and Nanosys, Inc. entered into a collaborative agreement in late 2002 for the development of nanotechnology based solar cells for the Asian building materials market. They anticipate having a product developed by 2007. Nanocomposite organic solar cells are theoretically less expensive to produce than silicon solar cells, while their low cell conversion efficiency and short operating lives have been a challenge. Behind the collaboration is an approach to raise the solar cell efficiency to the level of the current silicon solar cells. Matsushita will contribute research toward developing more ruggedized technology for longer cell lives.


Nanosys, Inc.
Larry Bock
President and CEO
Palo Alto, CA 94304
Phone: (650) 846-2505

Matsushita Electric Works
Head Office
1048 Kadoma, Osaka 571-8686, Japan
Phone: (06) 6908-1131

University of California, Berkeley
Dr. Paul Alivisatos
c/o Alivisatos Group, Box 101
Department of Chemistry
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720
Phone: (510) 643-7371

  Energy Efficiency
Renewable Energy


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