The First Diamond Solar Panels Have Introduced a Material That Surpasses the Limitations of Photovoltaic Systems

  • Diamond photovoltaic cells utilize synthetic layers of boron-doped diamond instead of silicon.

  • This material is not only incredibly durable and resistant to radiation, it also exhibits highly advantageous electronic properties.

Solar Panels
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In the race to overcome the physical limitations of silicon, the photovoltaic industry is placing its bets on a material that exceeds even the groundbreaking perovskites in terms of strength, heat capacity, and thermal energy conductivity: diamond.

What are diamond solar panels? There are many types of third-generation solar panels designed to replace traditional silicon cells. These panels utilize layers of synthetic diamond as a substitute for silicon. Although diamond isn’t a semiconductor, it can be modified with certain elements to exhibit semiconductor properties.

As research into diamond semiconductors progresses, there’s potential for them to surpass the theoretical limitations of traditional solar panels and, as a result, make them outdated.

What advantages do they have? First off, diamond has the highest thermal conductivity of all known materials, which means it could help solar panels quickly disperse excess heat that typically degrades silicon models.

In addition to being extremely hard and resistant to radiation, diamond also has favorable electronic properties for solar energy harvesting. For example, it has high mobility of charge carriers (electrons and holes), which could potentially enhance the efficiency of solar panels to unprecedented levels.

Adjustable band gap. Diamond has a wide forbidden band gap that scientists are trying to adjust through doping in order to create an optimal material for absorbing and converting solar energy.

Experts expect diamond solar panels to absorb and convert a wider range of the sunlight spectrum, including violet and ultraviolet rays. This would increase their efficiency.

What about the downsides? The major drawback is the high price, since producing high-quality synthetic diamonds is both costly and technically complex. As such, the main research challenge is to develop a more efficient manufacturing process.

Fortunately, science is progressing in this area. Synthetic diamonds can be made from a cost-effective mix of carbon and hydrogen, typically using methane and atmospheric carbon dioxide in a process called chemical vapor deposition (CVD).

In this process, scientists introduce the gas mixture into a vacuum chamber and activate it with microwave, hot filament, or plasma heat. This causes the hydrocarbon to decompose and the carbon atoms to be deposited on a substrate, such as silicon or metal, creating a thin diamond layer.

A supermaterial for extreme situations. Similar to silicon solar cells, the production of higher purity diamond incurs additional manufacturing costs, which may be offset by long-term benefits in performance and quality.

While diamond solar panels have yet to match the cost-effectiveness of pure silicon and surpass perovskites, a mineral that is also being developed for photovoltaic cells, doped diamond remains the top choice for applications requiring extremely durable and efficient solar panels, such as space exploration.

Image | U.S. Air Force | SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Related | California Has Defeated the Sun: 20% of the Power It Uses at Night Comes From Solar Panels

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