Plugging in to the sun: Designing next-generation photovoltaic materials
By 2050, the global demand for energy is expected to top 30 TW (a terawatt is equal to 1 trillion watts). In order to help meet that need, scientists are exploring ways to enhance photovoltaic technology.
Under the supervision of Dr. Bryan Koivisto, Molecular Science PhD candidate Muhammad Yousaf is one of the researchers charting new terrain in that area. Recently, Muhammad was the lead author of an article in RSC Advances that sets out some of his findings.
Dyes, photons and electricity
“Our research is aimed at making organic dyes intended for use in dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs),” Muhammad explains. “These dyes are responsible for absorbing photons and converting them into electrical current.”
Inspired by the natural process of photosynthesis, Muhammad’s work entails designing a DSSC capable of absorbing photons throughout the entire spectrum – referred to as panchromatic absorption. “Most dye molecules, however, do not absorb low-energy photons, thus mitigating DSSC efficiency,” Muhammad says. The dye design – macrocycle orthogonal to the BODIPY linker – that Muhammad describes in his article overcomes that limitation by enabling photons to be absorbed in the entire spectrum. “This innovation holds the potential of improving efficiency,” Muhammad notes, “because the photons absorbed by the macrocyle transfer their energy to the BODIPY core, which is the linker part of the molecule.”
According to Muhammad, one of the most interesting aspects of his DSSC research is the potential to fine tune the two different parts of the dye molecule – the macrocycle and BODIPY – independently. “Making the molecule rigid and more orthogonal will help achieve intense and enhanced absorption.”
Muhammad carried out his quest to create and explore a family of dyes for use in light-harvesting applications at the Koivisto Lab for Advanced Solar Design and Innovation. “The lab’s friendly environment and Dr. Koivisto’s timely feedback have been absolutely essential for supporting my work.”