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Nanowire Solar Energy Harvesting

Los Alamos National Laboratory

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Dense array of SiGe alloy nanowires.
Dense array of SiGe alloy nanowires.

Technology Marketing SummaryNanowires have the potential to enhance scattering and absorption of light in PV applications while retaining their single-crystal structure. The scientists developing this capability welcome the opportunity to unite with industry and advance its potential.DescriptionEfficient and economical solar energy production using single-crystal silicon has Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) researchers leveraging unique Laboratory capabilities to make highly efficient, low cost, crystalline solar cells based on economical thin film processing approaches by means of nanomaterials synthesis. Single-crystal silicon is abundant, manufacturable, and reasonably efficient. It’s drawback, however, is that it is expensive to produce.

In the past, textured surfaces have been utilized to enhance optical absorption, but for greater efficiency, expensive single-crystal fabrication processes are required. Photon absorption length scales are long in silicon, thereby requiring thick silicon layers of very high quality due to the slow diffusion processes to collect the electrical charge carriers which produce electricity.

LANL researchers aim to use nanoscale crystalline silicon nanowire structures to greatly reduce absorption distances while achieving efficiencies comparable to single crystal bulk solar cells; however, there are several issues that must be resolved before nanowire technology will be adopted for photovoltaic (PV) applications. The metrology of nanoscale materials must continue so that intra-wire properties can be better characterized and performance enhancements achieved and understood. LANL has several unique capabilities at the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies (CINT) to aid in this endeavor:
  • Vapor-Liquid-Solid (VLS) Si/Ge nanowire synthesis by Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD)
  • Electrical transport and optical response measurements
  • Ultra-fast optical spectroscopy
  • Rutherford backscattering spectrometry
  • Scanning electron microscopy
  • Vapor deposition
  • Metal and dielectric deposition
  • Plasma etch
  • Electron beam lithography
  • Photolithography
  • Wet processing
  • The Electrical Transport Discovery Platform TM
  • Low cost
  • Low weight
  • Improved efficiency
Applications and IndustriesThin-film solar cells
  • Utility PV
  • Commercial PV
  • Residential PV
  • Building-integrated PV
Technology Status
Development StageAvailabilityPublishedLast Updated

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To: Michael Erickson<>