Graphene Breakthrough has Huge Solar Implications

February 26, 2013

I have one word for you. Graphene.

Institute of Photonic Science:

The most recent addition to the long list of the amazing properties of graphene was announced in Nature Physics in a paper authored by ICFO researchers, in collaboration with researchers from MIT, Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research, and Graphenea S.L. The paper demonstrates that graphene is able to convert a single photon that it absorbs into multiple hot electrons, and that the higher photon’s energy, the larger the number of hot electrons created. Since these light-induced electrons can drive currents, hot-electron multiplication is an essential ingredient for light harvesting with very low energy loss. Moreover, the combination of broadband absorption and hot-carrier multiplication enables graphene to efficiently convert light energy from the full solar spectrum into electricity.


A new discovery by researchers at the Institute of Photonic Science (ICFO) has revealed that graphene is even more efficient at converting light into electricity than previously known. Graphene is capable of converting a single photon of light into multiple electrons able to drive electric current. The discovery is an important one for next-generation solar cells, as well as other light-detecting and light-harvesting technologies.

A paradigm shift in the materials industry is likely within the near-future as a variety of unique materials replaces those that we commonly use today, such as plastics. Among these new materials, graphene stands out. The single-atom-thick sheet of pure carbon has an enormous number of potential applications across a variety of fields. Its potential use in high-efficiency, flexible, and transparent solar cells is among the potential applications. Some of the other most discussed applications include: foldable batteries/cellphones/computers, extremely thin computers/displays, desalination and water purification technology, fuel distillation, integrated circuits, single-molecule gas sensors, etc.

“In most materials, one absorbed photon generates one electron, but in the case of graphene, we have seen that one absorbed photon is able to produce many excited electrons, and therefore generate larger electrical signals,” says Frank Koppens, group leader at ICFO.

This ability makes graphene extremely appealing for any technology that requires the conversion of light into electricity, particularly because it allows the development of light detectors with improved efficiency, and should lead to solar cells that are able to capture light energy from all of the solar spectrum with lower loss.

The discovery was made during an experiment that consisted of sending an exact quantity of photons possessing different energies (different colors) onto a monolayer of graphene. “We have seen that high energy photons (e.g. violet) are converted into a larger number of excited electrons than low energy photons (e.g. infrared). The observed relation between the photon energy and the number of generated excited electrons shows that graphene converts light into electricity with very high efficiency. Even though it was already speculated that graphene holds potential for light-to-electricity conversion, it now turns out that it is even more suitable than expected!” says KJ Tielrooij, a researcher at ICFO.

There are some issues with graphene that need to be resolved before they can be used for ‘direct applications’ though. But once these are resolved, graphene holds a revolutionary potential, especially with regards to technologies currently based on conventional semiconductors. “It was known that graphene is able to absorb a very large spectrum of light colors. However now we know that once the material has absorbed light, the energy conversion efficiency is very high. Our next challenge will be to find ways of extracting the electrical current and enhance the absorption of graphene. Then we will be able to design graphene devices that detect light more efficiently and could potentially even lead to more efficient solar cells,” Koppens says in conclusion.


10 Responses to “Graphene Breakthrough has Huge Solar Implications”

  1. lawlermcneil Says:

    Thank you for the article, hopefully they will work real fast and enable us to turn off the nukes! great photo (Graduate)

  2. There are some issues with graphene that need to be resolved before they can be used for ‘direct applications’ though

    Pure carbon in a matrix? Is it going to be as expensive as diamond, or as cheap as soot?

    Is it going to take one year, five years, or fifty years to come to market? I’m still on the edge of my seat in anticipation of nano carbon tubule capacitor batteries, spray on liquid glass, dirt cheap white paint that is a PV panel, the quadrilliionth new revolution in battery technology, etc, etc.

    Meanwhile, videos actually posted here by qualified climate scientists tell us our time frame to reduce our carbon emissions to zero is only 5 to 10 years. We have the technology right now to accomplish that goal cost effectively and time effectively.

    But it requires a a revolutionary idea – it requires a Federal renewable energy utility program, not the same old free market approach. To turn a revolutionary idea into a mainstream idea requires that bloggers actually write articles about that revolutionary approach. Instead, all I see are the same tired old ideas about homeowner and business incentives, working within the free enterprise system to coax some corporation to find a way to make a profit with renewable energy – As. If. We. Had. All. The. Time. In. The. World.

  3. […] Peter Sinclair has summarized the info on Graphene and has links to various sources here. […]

  4. Don’t forget inexpensive graphene super capacitors with the energy density of lithium batteries! At least the potential:


  5. Link to the paper abstract (apologies if already above – didn’t see it)


  6. pmagn Says:

    super supercapacitor

  7. Look what happened with the plastics…

    • Right, plastic is a scourge of our time – “disposable plastic” should be an oxymoron. (Let’s hope that some bacteria evolves to “eat” plastic?)

      Solid carbon by definition though, is not going to be the same as plastic. Graphene would end being a carbon sink, like biochar.


  8. Don’t forget inexpensive graphene super capacitors with the energy density of lithium batteries! At least the potential:

    super supercapacitor

    Yeah, yeah, yeah.

    People have been writing about the wonderful new supercapicitors in the popular press since the turn of the century, with research papers going back to 1991. Still on the edge of my seat in anticipation.

    Meanwhile, back in the real world….

    We could deploy enough renewable infrastructure to solve climate change… TODAY… if we wanted to do it. We have the technology to accomplish that now.

    We are waiting around for some miracle to occur in the free market to allow that to happen.

    Instead of forcing the conversation to be: Why don’t we build the renewable energy infrastructure we need as a nation, with a Federal project?

    Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that we could build a single new hydroelectric dam that would generate ten times more energy every day than we could possibly use up as a nation. Let’s say that dam would have zero environmental costs. Should the Department of Energy build that dam?

    Or should we squander our political capital on trying to pass a carbon tax, so that building that dam might seem more cost effective than continuing to burn fossil fuels?

    We should build the fracking dam. Today.

  9. […] Graphene Breakthrough has Huge Solar Implications | Climate Denial Crock of the Week […]

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