Nanotechnology for energy materials: Electrodes like leaf veins

SEM – model of a metallic nano-network with periodic arrangement ( left) and visual representation of a fractal pattern (right).

SEM – model of a metallic nano-network with periodic arrangement ( left) and visual representation of a fractal pattern (right). © M. Giersig/HZB

Nano-sized metallic wires are attracting increasing attention as conductive elements for manufacturing transparent electrodes, which are employed in solar cells and touch screen panels. In addition to high electric conductivity, excellent optical transmittance is one of the important parameters for an electrode in photovoltaic applications. An international team headed by HZB scientist Prof. Michael Giersig has recently demonstrated for these applications that networks of metallic mesh possessing fractal-like nano-features surpass other metallic networks in utility. These findings have now been published in the most recent edition of the renowned journal Nature Communications.

Their new  development is based on what  is termed quasi-fractal nano-features. These structures have similarities to the hierarchical networks of veins in leaves. Giersig’s team was able to show that metallic networks with these features optimise performance of electrodes for several applications. They combine minimized surface coverage with ultra-low total resistance while maintaining uniform current density. In addition, it was demonstrated   that these networks, inspired by nature, can surpass the performance of conventional indium tin oxide (ITO) layers. In experiments on artificially constructed electrode networks of different topologies, the scientists established that non-periodic hierarchical organisation exhibited lower resistance as well as excellent optical transmittance in comparison to periodic organisation. This led to elevated output power for photovoltaic components.

“On the basis of our studies, we were able to develop an economical transparent metal electrode", says Giersig, continuing “We obtain this by integrating two silver networks. One silver network is applied with a broad mesh spacing between the micron-diameter main conductors that serve as the “highway" for electrons transporting electrical current over macroscopic distances.” Next to it, additional randomly distributed nano-wire networks serve as local conductors to cover the surface between the large mesh elements. “These smaller networks act as regional roadways beside the highways to randomise the directions and strengths of the local currents, and also create refraction effects to improve transparency above that of classical shadow-limited performance”, according to Giersig. “Solar cells based upon these electrodes show exceptional a high efficiencies”.

Publication: Optimization of hierarchical structure and nanoscale-enabled plasmonic refraction for window electrodes in photovoltaics; Nature Communications, 7, 12825; doi:10.1038/ncomms12825


You might also be interested in

  • Key role of nickel ions in the Simons process discovered
    Key role of nickel ions in the Simons process discovered
    Researchers at the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM) and Freie Universität Berlin have discovered the exact mechanism of the Simons process for the first time. The interdisciplinary research team used the BESSY II light source at the Helmholtz Zentrum Berlin for this study.

  • Watching indium phosphide at work
    Science Highlight
    Watching indium phosphide at work
    Indium phosphide is a versatile semiconductor. The material can be used for solar cells, for hydrogen production and even for quantum computers – and with record-breaking efficiency. However, little research has been conducted into what happens on its surface. Researchers have now closed this gap and used ultra-fast lasers to scrutinise the dynamics of the electrons in the material.
  • Freeze casting - a guide to creating hierarchically structured materials
    Science Highlight
    Freeze casting - a guide to creating hierarchically structured materials
    Freeze casting is an elegant, cost-effective manufacturing technique to produce highly porous materials with custom-designed hierarchical architectures, well-defined pore orientation, and multifunctional surface structures. Freeze-cast materials are suitable for many applications, from biomedicine to environmental engineering and energy technologies. An article in "Nature Reviews Methods Primer" now provides a guide to freeze-casting methods that includes an overview on current and future applications and highlights characterization techniques with a focus on X-ray tomoscopy.