The key to this class of cells is the ability to convert the electrons in a semiconductor material into electricity.
The new materials can be made using a technique known as delocalization, which allows the electrons to move through the material without being damaged.
The researchers said their work, which was published in Nature Materials, showed how the material can be fabricated into semiconductor-based devices that could be used in solar panels.
The team used silicon nanocrystals and a process known as “molybdenum disulfide disulfidation,” which can remove heavy metals from semiconductors.
They said the process, which can be applied to materials that have other properties, can also remove carbon dioxide from water.
“Our research provides a new method for making a super-dense semiconductor and a new way to make thin films of the material,” said lead author and physicist Andrew E. M. Ostermeier, a PhD candidate at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
“It opens up new possibilities in the fabrication of these ultra-thin films,” he said.
The process involves heating the semiconductor materials with a magnetic field.
The magnetic field then causes the atoms in the semiconducting material to change their physical shape and flow together in a pattern called a ring, where electrons move through each atom.
The electrons can then move into the next atom in the ring and so on.
This pattern can be manipulated to create nanocrystal-like structures that can be coated in silicon nanotubes and then coated with other semiconductive materials to create new solar cells.
The materials used in this work are produced using the process known colloidal platinum and other similar nanostructures, but the process is not the same as colloidal silica, which is a type of silicon nanostructure.
“These nanostoys can be used as thin film solar cells that can also be used to make solar panels,” said Ostermeisters colleague, Eric F. Valk.
“We are excited to be working on the next generation of thin film semiconductor solar cells, as they could be a major part of the energy grid.”
Researchers said that this technique could also be applied in other applications where the electron-to-electron transfer (EET) of the semicene can be reduced to a nanometer or a nanosecond.
In the future, the researchers said they could use this technique to make semiconductor cells that would be used for photovoltaic solar cells or other energy-efficient devices.
The study was funded by the National Science Foundation and by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science.