Nav: Home

Development of low-dimensional nanomaterials could revolutionize future technologies

June 15, 2017

Javier Vela, scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory, believes improvements in computer processors, TV displays and solar cells will come from scientific advancements in the synthesis of low-dimensional nanomaterials.

Ames Laboratory scientists are known for their expertise in the synthesis and manufacturing of materials of different types, according to Vela, who is also an Iowa State University associate professor of chemistry. In many instances, those new materials are made in bulk form, which means micrometers to centimeters in size. Vela's group is working with tiny, nanometer, or one billionth of a meter sized, nanocrystals.

"We're trying to find out what happens with materials when we go to lower particle sizes, will the materials be enhanced or negatively impacted, or will we find properties that weren't expected," Vela said. "Our goal is to broaden the science of low-dimensional nanomaterials." In an invited paper published in Chemistry of Materials entitled, "Synthetic Development of Low Dimensional Materials", Vela and coauthors Long Men, Miles White, Himashi Andaraarachchi, and Bryan Rosales discussed highlights of some of their most recent work on the synthesis of low dimensional materials.

One of those topics was advancements in the synthesis of germanium-based core-shell nanocrystals. Vela says industry is very interested in semiconducting nanocrystal-based technologies for applications such as solar cells.

Small particle size can affect many things from transport properties (how well a nanocrystal conducts heat and electricity) to optical properties (how strong it interacts with light, absorbs light and emits light). This is especially true in photovoltaic solar cells "Let's say you're using a semiconductor material to make a solar device, there's often different performance when solar cells are made from bulk materials as opposed to when they are made with nanomaterials. Nanomaterials interact with light differently; they absorb it better. That's one way you can manipulate devices and fine tune their performance or power conversion efficiency," said Vela.

Beyond solar cells, Vela says there's tremendous interest in using nanocrystals in quantum dot television and computer displays, optical devices like LEDs (light-emitting diodes), biological imaging, and telecommunications.

He says there are many challenges in this area because depending upon the quality of the nanocrystals used, you can see different emission properties, which can affect the purity of light. "Ultimately the size of the nanocrystals being used can make a huge difference in the cleanliness or crispness of colors in TV and computer displays," said Vela. "Television and computer technology is a multibillion dollar business worldwide, so you can see the potential value our understanding of properties of nanocrystals could bring to these technologies."

In the paper, Vela's group also discussed advancements made in the study of synthesis and spectroscopic characterization of organolead halide perovskites, which Vela says are some of the most promising semiconductors for solar cells because of their low cost and easier processability. He adds photovoltaics made of these materials now reach power conversion efficiencies of greater than 22 percent. Vela's research in this area has focused on mixed-halide perovskites. He says his group has discovered these materials exhibit interesting chemical and photo physical properties that people hadn't realized before, and now they are trying to better understand the correlation between the structure and chemical composition of perovskites and how they behave in solar cells. "One of our goals is to use what we've learned to help lower the cost of solar cells and produce them more reliably and readily," Vela said.

In addition, Vela's group is studying how to replace lead in traditional organolead halide perovskites with something less toxic, like germanium. "In principle, this is an area that should be much better known, but it's not," said Vela. "When we've been able to substitute germanium for lead, we have been able to produce a lighter perovskite, which he says could positively impact the automotive industry, for example.

"This could have great implications for transportation applications where you don't want a lot of lead because it's so heavy," said Vela. Going forward Vela says his group's focus will be on advancing the science in low-dimensional materials.

"We're not working with well-known materials, but the newest; the most recently discovered," Vela said. "And every time we can advance the science we're one step closer to opportunities for more commercialization, more production, more manufacturing and more jobs in the U.S."
This work was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.

Ames Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science national laboratory operated by Iowa State University. Ames Laboratory creates innovative materials, technologies and energy solutions. We use our expertise, unique capabilities and interdisciplinary collaborations to solve global problems.

DOE's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit

DOE/Ames Laboratory

Related Solar Cells Articles:

Solar cells more efficient thanks to new material standing on edge
Researchers from Lund University in Sweden and from Fudan University in China have successfully designed a new structural organization using the promising solar cell material perovskite.
Printable solar cells just got a little closer
A University of Toronto Engineering innovation could make printing solar cells as easy and inexpensive as printing a newspaper.
A big nano boost for solar cells
Solar cells convert light into electricity. While the sun is one source of light, the burning of natural resources like oil and natural gas can also be harnessed.
Game changer for organic solar cells
Researchers develop a simple processing technique that could cut the cost of organic photovoltaics and wearable electronics.
Physics, photosynthesis and solar cells
A University of California, Riverside assistant professor has combined photosynthesis and physics to make a key discovery that could help make solar cells more efficient.
Throwing new light on printed organic solar cells
Researchers at the University of Surrey have achieved record power conversion efficiencies for large area organic solar cells.
A new way to image solar cells in 3-D
Berkeley Lab scientists have developed a way to use optical microscopy to map thin-film solar cells in 3-D as they absorb photons.
Toward 'greener,' inexpensive solar cells
Solar panels are proliferating across the globe to help reduce the world's dependency on fossil fuels.
A new technique opens up advanced solar cells
Using a novel spectroscopic technique, EPFL scientists have made a much-needed breakthrough in cutting-edge photovoltaics.
OU physicists developing new systems for next generation solar cells
University of Oklahoma physicists are developing novel technologies with the potential to impact utility-scale energy generation, increase global energy capacity and reduce dependence on fossil fuels by producing a new generation of high efficiency solar cells.

Related Solar Cells Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Moving Forward
When the life you've built slips out of your grasp, you're often told it's best to move on. But is that true? Instead of forgetting the past, TED speakers describe how we can move forward with it. Guests include writers Nora McInerny and Suleika Jaouad, and human rights advocate Lindy Lou Isonhood.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...