LLNL engineer Tiziana Bond (center) is holding an etched silicon wafer with the nanopatterns. Second row from left to right: Bond's nanophotonics and plasmonics research team members from the LLNL Engineering Directorate Elaine Behymer, Allan Chang and Mihail Bora. (Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)

Plasmonic Black Metals Will Make Solar Cells More Efficient

According to a Lawrence Livermore engineering team, plasmonic black metals—nanostructured metals are designed to have low reflectivity and high absorption of visible and infrared light—may one day make photovoltaic (PV) cells more efficient. The LLNL Materials Engineering Division (MED) research team recently published their black metals research results in a cover-page article in the May issue of Applied Physics Letters titled “Plasmonic Black Metals in Resonant Nanocavities.”

Black metal samples with different nanostructures thickness and coated with aluminum laying over a high reflective flat aluminum surface. (Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)
Black metal samples with different nanostructures thickness and coated with aluminum laying over a high reflective flat aluminum surface. (Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory). Click to enlarge.

Authored by MED physicist and research team member Mihail Bora, the article details the work of the nanophotonics and plasmonics research team led by LLNL engineer Tiziana Bond.

It describes the team’s concept of black metals, which are not classic metals but can be thought of as an extension of the black silicon concept. When silicon is treated in a certain way, such as being roughened at the nanoscale level, it traps light by multiple reflections, increasing its solar absorption. This gives the silicon a black surface that’s able to better trap the full sun’s wavelength spectrum.

Similarly, black metals are produced by some sort of random nanostructuring—either in gold or silver—without guaranteeing a full, reliable and repeatable full solar absorption. However, Bond’s team developed a method to improve and control the absorption efficiency and basically turn the metals as black as they want, allowing them to increase, on demand, the absorption of a higher quantity of solar wavelengths. Her team built nanopillar structures that are trapping and absorbing all the relevant wavelengths of the entire solar spectrum.

“Our article was picked for the cover story of Applied Physics Letters because it represents cutting-edge work in the area of plasmonics, the broadband operation obtained with a clear design and its implication for the photovoltaic yield,” Bond said.

This new LLNL technology could one day be used in the energy harvesting industry such as PV. By incorporating metallic nanostructures with strong coupling of incident light, broad spectral and angular coverage, the LLNL team is providing a path for more efficient photovoltaics and thermovoltaics (a form of energy collection) by means of plasmon-exciton conversion, according to Bond and Bora.

[notification type=”help”]Mihail Bora, Elaine M. Behymer, Dietrich A. Dehlinger, Jerald A. Britten, Cindy C. Larson, Allan S. P. Chang, Keiko Munechika, Hoang T. Nguyen, Tiziana C. Bond (2013). Plasmonic black metals in resonant nanocavities Applied Physics Letters, 102 (25) DOI: 10.1063/1.4802910[/notification]

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  • Paul

    This is a highly interesting article. I’m picturing a DeLorean manufactured with some future version of these black metals. I know photovoltaics are silicon and not as strong as steel, but perhaps someday….