Bismuth-based crystalline material can boost solar cell efficiency, chip designFebruary 20th, 2009 - 6:09 pm ICT by IANS
Washington, Feb 20 (IANS) Physicists have discovered unusual electronic properties in a material that has potential to improve solar cell efficiency and computer chip design.
They determined that a crystal made of bismuth, iron and oxygen can perform an electronic feat typically not feasible with conventional semiconductors.
It acts as a reversible diode - essentially an electronic turnstile that lets current flow in one direction under certain conditions and in the opposite direction under different conditions.
Traditional semiconductor diodes are not reversible - the direction of current flow that they allow is fixed during fabrication.
They also discovered that diodes made from this material generate current when light falls on them, making them a potential candidate for future solar cells.
The material appears very sensitive to light at the blue end of the spectrum, a property that has the potential to increase solar cell efficiency.
“We’ve reached the upper limit of efficiency with today’s solar cells,” said Sang-Wook Cheong, physics professor in the Rutger University School of Arts and Sciences and one of the paper’s five co-authors.
“While we still don’t know how efficiently this material will ultimately perform as a solar cell, we do need to keep investigating alternate technologies that show potential for improvement,” Cheong said.
The crystal that Cheong and his colleagues investigated is a ferroelectric material, meaning that the crystal exhibits electrical polarisation, or alignment. This polarisation, which the scientists believe controls the crystal’s ability to act as a diode, is known as a “bulk effect” - a characteristic that permeates the whole crystal, said a Rutger’s release.
“This could make computer chip designs more flexible,” said Cheong. “Engineers could design a single circuit element that performs one task under a certain configuration and another task under a different configuration.”
These findings are scheduled for publication in Science.
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Tags: alignment, alternate technologies, chip design, circuit element, colleagues, computer chip, conventional semiconductors, crystalline material, diode, electronic properties, ferroelectric material, oxygen, physicists, physics professor, polarisation, rutger university, semiconductor diodes, solar cell efficiency, solar cells, turnstile