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  • Published: 28 March 2019

Photovoltaic solar cell technologies: analysing the state of the art

  • Pabitra K. Nayak   ORCID: 1 ,
  • Suhas Mahesh 1 ,
  • Henry J. Snaith   ORCID: 1 &
  • David Cahen   ORCID: 2  

Nature Reviews Materials volume  4 ,  pages 269–285 ( 2019 ) Cite this article

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  • Semiconductors
  • Solar cells
  • Solar energy and photovoltaic technology

The remarkable development in photovoltaic (PV) technologies over the past 5 years calls for a renewed assessment of their performance and potential for future progress. Here, we analyse the progress in cells and modules based on single-crystalline GaAs, Si, GaInP and InP, multicrystalline Si as well as thin films of polycrystalline CdTe and CuIn x Ga 1− x Se 2 . In addition, we analyse the PV developments of the more recently emerged lead halide perovskites together with notable improvements in sustainable chalcogenides, organic PVs and quantum dots technologies. In addition to power conversion efficiencies, we consider many of the factors that affect power output for each cell type and note improvements in control over the optoelectronic quality of PV-relevant materials and interfaces and the discovery of new material properties. By comparing PV cell parameters across technologies, we appraise how far each technology may progress in the near future. Although accurate or revolutionary developments cannot be predicted, cross-fertilization between technologies often occurs, making achievements in one cell type an indicator of evolutionary developments in others. This knowledge transfer is timely, as the development of metal halide perovskites is helping to unite previously disparate, technology-focused strands of PV research.

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The authors acknowledge the support from the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (grant nos EP/P032591/1 and EP/M015254/2) and thank B. Wenger, T. Markvardt, T. Kirchartz, T. Buonassisi and A. Bakulin for critical comments and data and D. Friedman for providing a GaAs cell. D.C. thanks the Weizmann Institute of Science, where he held the Rowland and Sylvia Schaefer Chair in Energy Research, for partial support.

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Pabitra K. Nayak, Suhas Mahesh & Henry J. Snaith

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All authors contributed to the discussion of content. P.K.N. researched most of the data, carried out the analysis and wrote the article. D.C. and S.M. contributed to the researching of data and analysis. D.C., H.J.S. and P.K.N. edited the manuscript before submission.

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H.J.S. is the co-founder and CSO of Oxford PV Ltd, a company that is commercializing perovskite photovoltaic technologies. P.K.N., S.M. and D.C. declare no competing interests.

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Nayak, P.K., Mahesh, S., Snaith, H.J. et al. Photovoltaic solar cell technologies: analysing the state of the art. Nat Rev Mater 4 , 269–285 (2019).

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Photovoltaic solar cells: a review.

literature review of solar cell

1. Introduction

2. solar cells, 2.1. the working principle of pv cells.

  • Absorption of photons in a p-n junction electronic semiconductor to generate the charge carriers (electron-hole pairs). The absorption of a photon with energy (E = hυ) higher than the gap energy ‘E g ’ of the doped semiconductor material means that its energy is used to excite an electron from the valence band ‘Eυ’ to the conduction band ‘E c ’ leaving a void (hole) at the valance level. Additional kinetic energy is given to the electron or hole by the excess photon energy (hυ–hυ 0 ). ‘hυ 0 ′ is the minimum energy or work function of the semiconductor required to generate an electron-hole pair. The work function here represents the energy gap. The excess energy is dissipated as heat in the semiconductor [ 21 , 22 ].
  • Consequent separation of the light-generated charge carriers. In an external solar circuit, the holes can flow away from the junction through the p-region, and electrons can flow out across the n-region and pass through the circuit before they recombine with the holes.
  • Finally, the separated electrons can be used to drive an electric circuit. After the electrons passed through the circuit, they will recombine with the holes.

2.2. Solar Cell Panels

2.3. components of solar power system, 2.4. p-n junction solar cell, 2.4.1. formation of the depletion region, 2.4.2. p-n junction solar cell under applied voltage, 2.4.3. pv cell under illumination.

  • The net flow of the electrons and holes in a p-n junction semiconductor under equilibrium conditions will generate two currents: ‘ I diff ’ and ‘ I drift ’. These currents balance and cancel each other at the equilibrium state.
  • If an external source is deployed to the p-n junction, the generated current is the diode current ‘ I d ’.
  • Under illumination, the p-n junction will present another current called light or photocurrent ‘ I ph ’.

2.5. I-V and P-V Characteristics

  • Short-circuit current density ‘ Isc ’ occurs at (R = 0 and V = 0)
  • Open-circuit voltage ‘ Voc ’ (no-load, I = 0 and R = ∞)
  • Fill factor ‘ FF ’ that represents the ratio of ‘ Pmax ’ to the electrical output of ‘ Voc ’ and ‘ Isc ’

2.6. Design Considerations

2.7. materials employed in pv cells, 2.7.1. iii-v pv gallium arsenide, 2.7.2. future trends, 2.8. challenges in solar cells, 3. simulation of solar cells and modules, 3.1. simulation of solar cells by matlab/simulink, 3.2. simulation of solar cells by comsol/multiphysics.

  • Creating a user-defined, spatially dependent variable for the generation rate, using an integral expression involving the solar radiation ‘ F ( λ )’, which is used to find the rate of photon generation ‘ ϕ ( λ )’.

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Al-Ezzi, A.S.; Ansari, M.N.M. Photovoltaic Solar Cells: A Review. Appl. Syst. Innov. 2022 , 5 , 67.

Al-Ezzi AS, Ansari MNM. Photovoltaic Solar Cells: A Review. Applied System Innovation . 2022; 5(4):67.

Al-Ezzi, Athil S., and Mohamed Nainar M. Ansari. 2022. "Photovoltaic Solar Cells: A Review" Applied System Innovation 5, no. 4: 67.

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  • Published: 04 February 2024

Examining the influence of thermal effects on solar cells: a comprehensive review

  • Lina M. Shaker 1 , 6 ,
  • Ahmed A. Al-Amiery 1 , 5 ,
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  • Abdul Amir H. Kadhum 4  

Sustainable Energy Research volume  11 , Article number:  6 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

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Solar energy has emerged as a pivotal player in the transition towards sustainable and renewable power sources. However, the efficiency and longevity of solar cells, the cornerstone of harnessing this abundant energy source, are intrinsically linked to their operating temperatures. This comprehensive review delves into the intricate relationship between thermal effects and solar cell performance, elucidating the critical role that temperature plays in the overall efficacy of photovoltaic systems. The primary objective of this review is to provide a comprehensive examination of how temperature influences solar cells, with a focus on its impact on efficiency, voltage, current output, and overall stability. By synthesizing existing knowledge and exploring recent advances in the field, we aim to elucidate the underlying mechanisms of thermal effects and offer insights into mitigating their adverse consequences. Our review encompasses a thorough discussion of the fundamentals of solar cells, including their operation and various types, before delving into the intricacies of thermal effects. We present an overview of experimental techniques for thermal analysis, factors influencing temperature variations, and strategies to alleviate thermal stresses. Additionally, we offer real-world case studies and discuss future trends and research directions, providing a comprehensive roadmap for advancing solar cell technology. In an era where the harnessing of solar energy has become increasingly vital, understanding and addressing thermal effects are imperative to maximize the efficiency and longevity of solar cells. This review article serves as a valuable resource for researchers, engineers, and policymakers by shedding light on the significance of thermal effects on solar cell performance and guiding the pursuit of innovative solutions in the quest for more efficient and sustainable photovoltaic systems.


In an era of accelerating climate change and environmental challenges, the quest for sustainable and renewable energy sources has become paramount. Among the myriad alternatives, solar energy stands out as one of the most promising solutions to mitigate the world's growing energy demands while curbing greenhouse gas emissions (Kuşkaya et al., 2023 ). In this comprehensive review, we embark on a journey to explore a crucial facet of solar energy harnessing—the influence of thermal effects on solar cell performance. Through a detailed analysis of thermal effects and their impact on solar cell efficiency, voltage, and current output, we aim to shed light on a critical yet often overlooked aspect of photovoltaic technology. Solar energy has ascended to the forefront of the global energy landscape due to its abundance, accessibility, and sustainability. It represents a beacon of hope in a world grappling with the challenges posed by finite fossil fuel reserves and the environmental consequences of their combustion. The inexhaustible supply of sunlight offers a tantalizing solution to our energy needs, harnessing a clean, renewable resource that can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and combat climate change (Akaev & Davydova, 2023 ). The transition to solar energy holds immense promise, not only for meeting our growing energy demands but also for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and minimizing the environmental impact of energy production. Solar power installations can be deployed at various scales, from residential rooftops to massive utility-scale solar farms, making it a versatile and scalable energy source that can be tailored to the needs of different regions and communities (Chanchangi et al., 2023 ).

At the heart of solar energy conversion lies the solar cell, a semiconductor device that transforms sunlight into electricity. The efficiency of these cells is a critical parameter that determines how effectively they can convert incoming sunlight into electrical power. Solar cell efficiency is defined as the ratio of the electrical energy output to the incoming solar energy input and is typically expressed as a percentage (Mohammad & Mahjabeen, 2023a ). Efficiency is the lifeblood of solar cell technology, as it directly impacts the cost-effectiveness of solar energy generation. High-efficiency solar cells can convert a larger portion of sunlight into electricity, reducing the number of cells and surface area required to generate a given amount of power. This, in turn, leads to lower installation and maintenance costs, making solar energy more accessible and economically viable (Bilal & Andajani, 2023 ). Understanding and mitigating thermal effects on solar cells is crucial for advancing the efficiency and reliability of solar energy systems. Solar cells, as the fundamental components of photovoltaic technology, exhibit intricate connections to temperature variations, significantly impacting their performance (Additional files 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 ).

The efficiency of solar cells, a pivotal parameter in converting sunlight into electrical energy, is intricately linked to temperature. As temperatures rise, electron–hole recombination rates within the solar cell increase. This temperature-induced acceleration, governed by the Arrhenius equation, leads to decreased efficiency. Elevated temperatures alter the dynamics of charge carriers, hindering their contribution to electrical current generation. The relationship between temperature and efficiency underscores the need for a nuanced examination to optimize solar cell performance. Temperature variations influence the bandgap properties of materials within solar cells (Asif, et al., 2023 ). Bandgap, representing the energy difference between valence and conduction bands, plays a crucial role in photon absorption. At higher temperatures, the bandgap of semiconductor materials can shift, impacting the range of photons they can absorb. Materials with smaller bandgaps may absorb lower-energy photons but may also be more susceptible to thermal losses. Understanding these alterations is essential for selecting materials that maintain optimal performance across diverse environmental conditions. Solar cells operate in diverse environments, from extreme heat in deserts to sub-zero temperatures in colder climates. Recognizing the impact of these conditions on solar cell performance is crucial for optimizing efficiency. Extreme temperatures introduce thermal stress, affecting overall stability and functionality. Therefore, a nuanced examination of thermal effects under different environmental conditions is essential for developing robust and reliable solar energy systems. In essence, the significance lies in the direct correlation between temperature variations and reduced efficiency. This knowledge is fundamental for researchers, engineers, and policymakers aiming to enhance solar energy systems' performance and overcome challenges posed by diverse environmental conditions (Bhore et al., 2023 ).

Exploring the current landscape of thermal effects on solar cells requires a comprehensive understanding of existing literature. This section provides an overview of recent studies, emphasizing the unique contributions of this review to the evolving field. While previous reviews have covered a broad spectrum of topics, ranging from experimental techniques to internal and external factors influencing solar cell performance, a discernible gap remains in synthesizing the latest advancements. In contrast to many existing reviews offering general overviews, this comprehensive review concentrates on recent developments, conducting a meticulous analysis of the most recent studies. The focused lens on the latest research findings distinguishes this review, ensuring an up-to-date and comprehensive analysis reflective of cutting-edge developments (Mohammad & Mahjabeen, 2023b ). This approach allows for a deeper exploration of the nuances associated with thermal effects on solar cells, contributing to a more detailed understanding of the subject matter. One unique aspect lies in the commitment to a meticulous analysis of the latest research findings. While other reviews may touch upon recent studies, this review goes further, critically examining and synthesizing these findings (Gerarden, 2023 ). The goal is to move beyond surface-level discussions and provide readers with insights into the methodological approaches, results, and implications of recent research. This commitment to a detailed analysis distinguishes this review as a valuable resource for researchers, practitioners, and stakeholders in the field of solar energy (Ye et al., 2023 ). To enhance the clarity of literature summarization, providing quantitative values for context becomes imperative. For instance, discussions on solar cell efficiency should include typical efficiency ranges to offer readers a more concrete understanding. By incorporating specific examples and findings, this section transitions from generic descriptions to a more data-driven and informative analysis. This approach not only strengthens the credibility of the review but also ensures that readers gain a more tangible grasp of the discussed concepts and their practical implications (Mohammad & Mahjabeen, 2023a ).

In exploring the existing landscape of thermal effects on solar cells, this literature review synthesizes insights from eight key articles, each contributing to the understanding of the nuances and challenges associated with thermal influences on solar cell performance. Gasparyan ( 2007 ) conducted a theoretical exploration, investigating the influence of temperature variations on a solar cell's short-circuit current and open-circuit voltage, presenting potential pathways for efficiency improvement (Gasparyan, 2007 ). Maka & O'Donovan ( 2022 ) focused on triple-junction solar cells, examining the impact of thermal load on performance parameters and emphasizing the critical role of thermal management (Maka & O'Donovan, 2022 ). Lakshmi and Desappan ( 2014 ) delved into temperature effects on solar cells, offering insights into the influence of temperature on various parameters in solar PV systems and addressing challenges associated with temperature variations (Ponnusamy & Desappan, 2014 ).

Ebhota and Tabakov ( 2023 ) investigated the influence of photovoltaic cell technologies and elevated temperature on photovoltaic system performance, providing comparative insights into the performance of crystalline silicon (c-Si) and copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) PV cells (Ebhota & Tabakov, 2023 ). Barron-Gafford et al. ( 2016 ) studied the temperature effect of photovoltaic cells, synthesizing previous research and discussing mechanisms and progress in mitigating temperature effects. Sun et al. ( 2022 ) addressed the photovoltaic heat island effect, revealing that larger solar power plants increase local temperatures, challenging theoretical models and raising concerns for large-scale installations (Sun et al., 2022 ). Arifin and team ( 2020 ) explored the effect of heat sink properties on solar cell cooling systems, focusing on passive cooling systems and introducing a heat sink with fins to address solar cell overheating, demonstrating enhanced cooling capacity (Arifin & Suyitno, 2020 ). Mesquita et al. ( 2019 ) assessed the temperature impact on perovskite solar cells under operation, concentrating on perovskite solar cells and highlighting challenges associated with thermal stability during operation (Mesquita et al., 2019 ).

Distinct from these individual studies, the current review synthesizes insights from this array of research, providing a comprehensive overview of recent advancements in the study of thermal effects on solar cells. It distinguishes itself by offering a focused lens on recent developments, a meticulous analysis of the latest research findings, and an emphasis on quantitative values for enhanced clarity (Hasan et al., 2023 ). By bridging gaps left by existing reviews, this comprehensive analysis contributes to a nuanced understanding of the complexities associated with thermal effects on solar cells. While the individual studies mentioned contribute valuable insights, the current review distinguishes itself in several key aspects. By consolidating findings from diverse studies, it provides a comprehensive overview of recent advancements in thermal effects on solar cells. Focusing specifically on recent developments, the review ensures an up-to-date analysis that reflects cutting-edge research in the field. In contrast to some existing reviews that offer broad overviews, the current review stands out with its commitment to a meticulous analysis of the latest research findings, providing insights into methodological approaches, results, and implications (Additional files 5 , 6 , 7 , 8 , 9 ).

Moreover, the current review places a strong emphasis on the importance of quantitative values for context, enhancing clarity and delivering a more data-driven and informative analysis. By synthesizing insights from various studies, the current review significantly contributes to a nuanced understanding of the complexities associated with thermal effects on solar cells. In essence, it serves as a bridge, addressing gaps left by existing reviews, and offers a timely, detailed, and comprehensive analysis of recent advancements in the study of thermal effects on solar cells.

This comprehensive review is organized to offer a comprehensive understanding of how thermal effects impact the performance of solar cells. To facilitate a systematic exploration of this multifaceted topic, the article is divided into distinct sections, as illustrated in Fig.  1 .

figure 1

Comprehensive exploration of thermal effects on solar cells

The comprehensive aim of this review is dual-fold: firstly, to foster a profound comprehension of how thermal effects intricately influence solar cell performance, and secondly, to provide guidance for advancing solutions and innovations that can amplify the efficiency and reliability of photovoltaic systems. Our specific objectives encompass elucidating the mechanisms through which temperature impacts the electrical characteristics of solar cells, reviewing and analyzing various experimental methods and techniques employed for thermal analysis, examining the diverse factors contributing to temperature variations in solar cell environments, exploring strategies and technologies for mitigating the adverse effects of temperature, showcasing real-world case studies illustrating the practical significance of thermal effects, and highlighting emerging trends and research directions poised to propel the field of solar cell technology towards enhanced efficiency and sustainability in solar energy generation.

Solar cell basics

In our quest to understand the influence of thermal effects on solar cell performance, it is vital to commence with the fundamentals of solar cell operation (Asdrubali & Desideri, 2018 ). Solar cells, also known as photovoltaic (PV) cells, are semiconductor devices that directly convert sunlight into electricity (Igliński et al. 2023 ; Dixit et al., 2023 ). The operation of these devices is rooted in the photovoltaic effect, a phenomenon discovered by Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel in 1839 and later elucidated by Albert Einstein in 1905, which earned him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921 (Mohan et al., 2023 ; Singh et al., 2023 ). The fundamental principles governing the operation of a solar cell can be succinctly outlined as follows. Firstly, sunlight, comprising discrete energy packets known as photons, strikes the solar cell's surface. Photon absorption takes place when these photons possess energy equal to or greater than the bandgap energy of the semiconductor material within the cell (Najm et al., 2023 ). Subsequently, the absorbed photons transfer their energy to electrons, elevating them from the valence band to the conduction band and generating electron–hole pairs within the material. Capitalizing on the internal electric field within the semiconductor, the newly formed electron–hole pairs undergo separation, with electrons migrating toward the n-type (negative) side and holes toward the p-type (positive) side. This separation initiates the flow of electrical current—a movement of electrons and holes—ultimately harnessed as electricity. The conductive metal contacts on the solar cell's surface collect this electrical current, rendering it available for various applications (Song et al., 2023 ).

Solar cell efficiency evolution: a historical timeline

The historical progress of solar cell efficiency, as depicted in Fig.  2 , provides a comprehensive overview of the dynamic evolution of various solar cell technologies. This timeline graph spans from the early years of solar cell development in the 1950s to the present, highlighting key milestones and breakthroughs. Early years (1950s–1970s), the initial decades marked the foundational phase of solar cell technologies, predominantly centered around silicon-based cells. During this period, efficiencies were relatively modest, and research efforts were primarily directed at gaining a deeper understanding of semiconductor materials (Sun et al., 2023 ). Film Technologies (1980s–1990s), the timeline indicates a significant shift with the emergence of thin-film technologies, such as amorphous silicon and cadmium telluride (CdTe). These innovations not only introduced diversity to the solar market but also led to improvements in efficiency and manufacturing processes (Utkir, 2023 ). Advancements in the 2000s and 2010s showcased the rise of multi-junction and tandem cell technologies. These sophisticated designs allowed solar cells to capture a broader spectrum of sunlight, pushing the boundaries of efficiency further. The timeline (2010s–Present) reflects a recent surge in perovskite solar cells and other emerging technologies during the 2010s and the present. This surge signifies the ongoing quest for novel materials and techniques aimed at boosting efficiency and overcoming limitations associated with traditional solar cells (Adeyinka et al., 2023 ). The rightmost part of the (Present) provides a snapshot of the current state of solar cell efficiency. It serves as a visual representation of the coexistence of diverse technologies in the solar energy landscape, each contributing to the overall progress in harnessing solar power (Elumalai et al., 2016 ; Hughes et al., 2023 ). Key technological developments and shifts in solar cell types are represented in Fig.  2 , showcasing the evolution of efficiencies over the years (Elumalai et al., 2016 ).

figure 2

Solar cell efficiency evolution timeline (Elumalai et al., 2016 )

Different types of solar cells and their applications

Solar cells come in various types, each with its unique properties, advantages, and applications. The choice of solar cell type depends on factors such as efficiency, cost, and specific use cases. Table 1 outlines different types of solar cells and their primary applications. This discussion sets the stage for exploring the thermal effects on these different solar cell types.

Various types of solar cells are employed in diverse applications, each with its unique characteristics. Monocrystalline Silicon solar cells, crafted from single-crystal silicon wafers, boast high efficiency but come with a higher production cost, making them commonly utilized in residential and commercial installations (Ngwashi & Tsafack, 2023 ). Polycrystalline Silicon cells, constructed from multiple silicon crystals, offer a cost-effective alternative with slightly lower efficiency compared to monocrystalline cells and find applications across various sectors, including residential and industrial settings (Ali et al., 2023 ; Bondoc & Eduardo., 2023 ). Within the category of Thin-Film Solar Cells, amorphous Silicon (a-Si) solar cells are characterized by thinness and lightness, making them suitable for flexible and portable applications, such as solar panels for backpacks and small electronic devices (Adeyinka et al., 2023 ; Gao et al., 2023 ). Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) solar cells, known for their low manufacturing costs and competitive efficiency, are prevalent in large-scale utility solar farms (Dallaev et al., 2023 ; Limmanee et al., 2023 ). Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS) cells strike a balance between efficiency and cost and find applications in various settings, including building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) (Maalouf et al., 2023 ). Multi-Junction Solar Cells, reserved for specialized applications where high efficiency is paramount, comprise multiple layers of distinct semiconductor materials. Each layer is designed to capture a specific portion of the solar spectrum, and these cells are prevalent in space applications, concentrator photovoltaics (CPV), and high-efficiency terrestrial installations (Andres et al., 2023 ; Gibert-Roca et al., 2023 ). Organic Solar Cells, utilizing organic materials as the active layer, are known for their lightweight and flexibility. With the potential for low-cost production, they are primarily employed in portable and niche applications (Sun et al., 2023 ; Weitz et al., 2023 ).

Factors affecting solar cell efficiency

Table 2 highlights key factors influencing solar cell efficiency. Temperature has a negative impact, while higher solar irradiance and optimal angles increase efficiency. Dust, dirt, and shading can hinder efficiency by reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the solar cells.

The efficiency of solar cells, a critical factor in converting sunlight into electricity, is influenced by various factors. Material properties, particularly the bandgap energy of the semiconductor material, play a crucial role in determining the solar spectrum portion that can be absorbed (Kumar et al., 2023 ). Semiconductors with smaller bandgaps can capture a broader range of photons, including those with lower energy, but this may result in lower efficiency due to thermal losses. Additionally, higher carrier mobility within the material enhances charge separation and collection efficiency (Li et al., 2023 ). The relationship between bandgap energy and efficiency is intricate and depends on the specific semiconductor materials used. In solar cells, bandgap energy refers to the difference between the valence band and the conduction band, defining the range of photons the material can absorb. Materials with smaller bandgaps have a lower energy threshold for absorbing photons, allowing them to capture a broader spectrum, including lower-energy photons like infrared light. However, there are trade-offs associated with this characteristic. For instance, Amorphous Silicon (a-Si) serves as an example of a material with a smaller bandgap, around 1.7 eV. While a-Si can capture a broad range of photons, its efficiency in converting sunlight into electricity tends to be lower. This is attributed in part to higher thermalization losses, where excess energy, especially from photons with energy less than the bandgap, is lost as heat. In contrast, Monocrystalline Silicon (c-Si) exemplifies a material with a larger bandgap, approximately 1.1 eV. Although c-Si absorbs a narrower range of photons compared to a-Si, it tends to have higher conversion efficiency for the photons it does capture (Kumar et al., 2023 ; Li et al., 2023 ). In summary, the selection of bandgap in solar cell materials involves a trade-off between capturing a broad range of photons and achieving high conversion efficiency. While materials with smaller bandgaps can capture a broader spectrum, they may face challenges related to higher thermal losses, resulting in lower overall efficiency. On the other hand, materials with larger bandgaps may have a narrower absorption range but can achieve higher efficiency for the absorbed photons. The specific values and characteristics can vary among different semiconductor materials.

Temperature is a significant factor impacting solar cell efficiency, as elevated temperatures can lead to reduced performance, attributed to increased electron–hole recombination and resistance—a key thermal effect explored in this review (Wright et al., 2023 ; Failed, 2023a ). The incident angle of sunlight and its intensity also contribute to efficiency variations. Solar tracking systems optimize incident angles, while sunlight intensity, varying with location and time of day, affects available energy for conversion (Almenabawy et al., 2023 ). Surface reflection and absorption are managed through anti-reflective coatings applied to solar cell surfaces, minimizing reflection and maximizing photon absorption. Manufacturing and design factors are critical, with defects and contaminations during manufacturing potentially hindering performance. Quality control processes are essential in addressing these issues. Additionally, solar cell design, encompassing layer arrangements, significantly impacts efficiency, with ongoing innovations continually enhancing performance (Carlson, 2023 ).

Quantitative insights into solar cell efficiency

Solar cell efficiency, a pivotal metric in evaluating photovoltaic technologies, exhibits a diverse range across different materials and designs. Crystalline silicon, a prevalent choice, showcases variations in efficiency. Monocrystalline silicon, known for its stability, typically achieves efficiency levels ranging from 15 to 22%. On the other hand, polycrystalline silicon, offering a cost-effective alternative, falls within the efficiency range of 13% to 18%. Thin-film technologies contribute flexibility and cost advantages. Amorphous silicon (a-Si), a notable player, demonstrates efficiencies ranging from 6 to 12%. Another contender, cadmium telluride (CdTe), gains attention for cost-effectiveness, with reported efficiencies spanning 9% to 22%. Considered a promising player in the field, perovskite solar cells exhibit reported efficiencies surpassing 25%. Research efforts are actively focused on enhancing stability. In the realm of concentrated photovoltaics, multijunction solar cells achieve efficiencies exceeding 40%. These cells leverage multiple semiconductor layers to capture a broad spectrum of sunlight. Quantum dot solar cells, in the research phase, aim for higher efficiencies but lack standardized values at present (Kim et al., 2020 ; Shanmugam, 2020 ). Efficiency values aren't static; they vary based on geographical locations and environmental conditions. Ongoing technological advancements continue to push the boundaries, with efficiency values subject to updates. This exploration of solar cell efficiency provides a nuanced understanding, considering diverse materials, technologies, and the dynamic nature of research and development in the solar energy domain (Zambrano et al., 2021 ). The findings depicted in Fig.  3 (Saha et al., 2015 ) highlight a notable trend in the realm of photovoltaic devices, emphasizing that the efficiencies of solar cells employing new materials are currently not on par with traditional silicon solar cells. However, the data also underscore an optimistic perspective, as researchers worldwide remain hopeful. This optimism is rooted in the rapid advancements observed in the key parameters of higher-generation solar cells. Notably, the ongoing progress in these advanced solar cell technologies, coupled with the relatively low production costs of the materials used, fuels the anticipation for future breakthroughs that could potentially close the efficiency gap between traditional silicon solar cells and their innovative counterparts. This figure serves as a visual representation of the current landscape, encouraging further exploration and development in the pursuit of enhanced solar cell efficiency.

figure 3

Efficiency landscape: a comparative overview of solar cell generations and active materials (Saha et al., 2015 )

Thermal effects on solar cells

Solar cells are remarkable devices that harness the power of sunlight to generate electricity. However, they are not immune to the influence of temperature. In this section, we delve into the intricate relationship between thermal effects and solar cell performance. We explore the definition of thermal effects, their profound impact on solar cell efficiency, voltage, and current output, delve into the mechanisms behind thermal losses, and introduce relevant theoretical models and equations that underpin our understanding of this complex interaction (Al-Jumaili et al., 2019 ). Thermal effects in the context of solar cells refer to the changes in their electrical and optical properties due to variations in temperature. As solar cells operate, they invariably generate heat. This heat can originate from multiple sources, including the absorbed sunlight, resistive losses in the cell's electrical contacts, and even environmental factors. The temperature of a solar cell can fluctuate widely based on its location, time of day, and exposure to sunlight (Dwivedi et al., 2020 ). The influence of temperature on solar cell performance is multifaceted and can have both positive and negative effects. Understanding these effects is crucial for optimizing the efficiency and longevity of photovoltaic systems.

Impact of temperature on solar cell efficiency, voltage, and current output

Temperature exerts a noteworthy influence on solar cell efficiency, generally causing a decline as temperatures rise. This decline is chiefly attributed to two primary factors. Firstly, the open-circuit voltage (Voc) of a solar cell typically decreases with increasing temperature. Voc signifies the maximum voltage the cell can generate without a connected load. The reduction in Voc is linked to the rise in the intrinsic carrier concentration of the semiconductor material, leading to increased electron–hole recombination and a subsequent decrease in voltage output (Salimi et al., 2023 ; Shahariar et al., 2020 ). Secondly, the fill factor (FF), indicating a solar cell's effectiveness in converting sunlight into electricity, is also impacted by temperature. Higher temperatures tend to diminish FF due to increased resistive losses within the cell, resulting in an overall efficiency decrease (Elbar et al., 2019 ; Lakhdar & Hima, 2020 ). Illustrated in Fig.  4 is the correlation between solar cell efficiency and temperature. As temperature rises, efficiency experiences a decline attributed to heightened electron–hole recombination rates and alterations in the bandgap properties of materials. This awareness of temperature-dependent behavior is pivotal for optimizing solar cell performance and implementing effective cooling strategies (Ouédraogo et al., 2021 ).

figure 4

Solar cell efficiency vs. temperature ( a , Solar Cell; b , Individual efficiencies vs temperature; c , Voltage vs junction dynamic velocity for different temperatures; d , photocurrent vs temperature; e , Open circuit voltage vs temperature for different base doping levels; and f , Open circuit voltage vs temperature for different base doping levels) (Ouédraogo et al., 2021 )

Temperature plays a crucial role in shaping the electrical characteristics of solar cells, impacting both voltage and current output. Regarding voltage, the open-circuit voltage (Voc) diminishes with rising temperatures, influencing the maximum power point voltage (Vmpp). Vmpp, representing the voltage at which the solar cell achieves its peak power output, undergoes a decrease due to a shift in the voltage-temperature coefficient caused by temperature increases (An et al., 2019 ). In terms of current output, solar cells exhibit variations with changes in temperature. Elevated temperatures generally result in an increase in the short-circuit current (Isc), signifying the maximum current output under short-circuit conditions. This rise is attributed to heightened carrier concentrations and improved mobility in the semiconductor material at higher temperatures (Zhao et al., 2020a ).

Mechanisms behind thermal losses in solar cells

Understanding the impact of temperature on solar cell performance requires delving into the underlying mechanisms governing thermal losses. Several key mechanisms contribute to the reduction in efficiency and voltage. Auger Recombination becomes more significant at higher temperatures. This process involves the interaction of three charge carriers—two electrons and one hole—resulting in the non-radiative recombination of carriers. The increased likelihood of carriers participating in the Auger process at elevated temperatures leads to a decrease in the overall efficiency of the solar cell (Adeeb et al., 2019 ; Fathi & Parian, 2021 ). Shockley–Read–Hall (SRH) Recombination is another crucial mechanism that intensifies at higher temperatures. It occurs when charge carriers are trapped at defect states within the semiconductor material, leading to non-radiative recombination. With increased thermal energy, more carriers can overcome trap energy barriers, increasing the likelihood of recombination through the SRH process and reducing the solar cell's efficiency (Gupta et al., 2022 ). Increased Carrier Mobility at elevated temperatures can enhance current output but exacerbate recombination losses, especially near the electrical contacts. Carrier mobility refers to how efficiently charge carriers move through the semiconductor material. The increased thermal energy enables carriers to move more freely, leading to enhanced electrical conductivity. However, this increased mobility can raise the likelihood of recombination events, particularly near the contacts, resulting in reduced overall efficiency (Jošt et al., 2020 ). Dark current, representing the current generated within a solar cell in the absence of light, tends to increase with temperature. This rise is primarily due to thermally generated carriers. At higher temperatures, thermal energy excites electrons, creating additional charge carriers that contribute to dark current. While more prominent in the absence of light, dark current also influences the electrical characteristics of the solar cell under illuminated conditions, potentially reducing overall efficiency (Markvart, 2022 ).

These mechanisms collectively contribute to the impact of temperature on solar cell performance, highlighting the complex interplay between thermal effects and the efficiency, voltage, and current output of photovoltaic systems. It is imperative to consider these mechanisms when designing solar cells and implementing strategies to mitigate the adverse effects of temperature, as understanding these underlying processes is essential for optimizing solar cell performance. Cutting-edge research has elucidated the intricate mechanisms behind thermal losses in solar cells. At elevated temperatures, Auger recombination, a process involving the interaction of three charge carriers, has been identified as a significant contributor to non-radiative recombination, impacting the lifetime of charge carriers and overall efficiency (Subramani et al., 2021 ). Shockley–Read–Hall (SRH) recombination mechanisms, particularly prevalent at higher temperatures, involve charge carriers trapped at defect states within the semiconductor material, leading to non-radiative recombination (Lee et al., 2020 ). The exploration of increased carrier mobility at higher temperatures has uncovered a dual impact, enhancing current output while exacerbating recombination losses, especially near the cell contacts. Furthermore, research has delved into the phenomenon of higher dark current at elevated temperatures, mainly attributed to the thermally generated carriers, posing challenges to maintaining overall cell efficiency (Shu et al., 2022 ). Figure  5 illustrates the key mechanisms contributing to thermal losses in solar cells. Auger recombination, Shockley–Read–Hall (SRH) recombination, increased carrier mobility, and higher dark current are explored, providing a visual representation of the complexities involved (Shang & Li, 2017 ). Figure  5 visually encapsulates the intricate mechanisms leading to thermal losses in solar cells. Auger recombination, SRH recombination, increased carrier mobility, and higher dark current are fundamental processes explained in the preceding sections. This visual aid enhances comprehension, serving as a quick reference for readers exploring the nuanced interactions within solar cell materials.

figure 5

Mechanisms behind thermal losses in solar cells (Shang & Li, 2017 )

Relevant theoretical models and equations

Understanding the impact of temperature on solar cell performance relies on theoretical models and equations that describe these complex interactions. The Shockley equation describes the current–voltage (I–V) characteristics of a solar cell. It combines the effects of temperature, voltage, and other factors to predict the cell's electrical behavior. The equation is given as (Díaz, 2022 ):

where: \(I\) is the total current through the cell, \({I}_{ph}\) is the photocurrent (current generated by absorbed light), \({I}_{0}\) is the dark current (current in the absence of light), \(q\) is the elementary charge, \(V\) is the voltage across the cell, \(n\) is the ideality factor, \(k\) is Boltzmann's constant and \(T\) is the absolute temperature.

The Shockley–Queisser limit is a theoretical model that defines the maximum achievable efficiency of a single-junction solar cell as a function of the semiconductor bandgap and temperature. It provides insights into the fundamental efficiency limits of solar cells and how temperature affects these limits (Markvart, 2022 ). These equations describe the dependence of carrier concentrations (electrons and holes) on temperature, which is crucial for understanding the variation in open-circuit voltage and short-circuit current with temperature (Das et al., 2022 ). In conclusion, thermal effects on solar cells are a complex yet critical aspect of photovoltaic technology. Understanding the impact of temperature on solar cell efficiency, voltage, and current output is essential for optimizing the performance of photovoltaic systems in diverse environmental conditions. By comprehending the mechanisms behind thermal losses and utilizing theoretical models and equations, researchers and engineers can work towards enhancing the efficiency and reliability of solar cell technology, bringing us closer to the goal of sustainable and efficient solar energy generation.

Advancements in experimental techniques

Recent research has witnessed remarkable progress in refining experimental techniques for thermal assessment of solar cells. Advanced thermal imaging technologies now provide not only high spatial resolution but also real-time monitoring capabilities (Table  3 ). This empowers researchers to capture dynamic temperature changes during operation with unprecedented detail (Alhmoud, 2023 ). Calorimetry techniques have evolved, enabling accurate measurements of heat generation and facilitating a deeper understanding of heat dissipation mechanisms within solar cell materials (Hellin & Loreto., 2023 ). Temperature-dependent characterization methods, especially those integrating with existing testing setups, now offer more comprehensive insights into the electrical response of solar cells under varying thermal conditions (Rahmani et al., 2021 ). The latest advancements in experimental techniques are poised to revolutionize the understanding of thermal effects on solar cells. These innovations bring about higher precision, offering detailed insights that were previously challenging to attain. Thermal imaging's real-time monitoring and high spatial resolution provide a dynamic view of temperature changes during operation, laying the foundation for targeted interventions. Calorimetry, with its accurate heat measurement capabilities, is crucial for unraveling the intricate mechanisms of heat dissipation within solar cell materials. The evolution toward steady-state and transient thermal analysis enhances our understanding of the dynamic thermal behavior of solar cells. Temperature-dependent characterization, integrating seamlessly into existing testing setups, offers a practical approach to assess the electrical response under various thermal conditions. Looking ahead, these advancements set the stage for more sophisticated experimentation. Further integration with machine learning algorithms and simulations promises predictive capabilities, enabling researchers to anticipate and address thermal challenges effectively. Additionally, cost reduction initiatives will democratize access to these technologies, fostering a collaborative environment for advancing solar cell research.

Future outlook and implications for the solar energy industry

Looking ahead, the implications of these recent findings are profound for the solar energy industry. The advancements in experimental techniques offer more accurate and detailed thermal assessments, crucial for optimizing solar cell performance in real-world environmental conditions. The mechanistic insights into thermal losses provide a foundation for developing targeted strategies to mitigate efficiency reductions, thereby enhancing the reliability and longevity of solar technologies. The integration of these latest research findings into solar cell design and manufacturing processes holds the potential to unlock new frontiers in efficiency improvement. Tailoring solar cells to better withstand and adapt to temperature variations, guided by a deeper understanding of thermal effects, will contribute significantly to the industry's quest for sustainable and efficient solar energy generation. In conclusion, the latest research in thermal effects on solar cells marks a paradigm shift, emphasizing precision in assessment techniques and uncovering intricate mechanisms (Li et al., 2021 ). As we look to the future, these findings not only deepen our understanding but also chart a course toward more resilient and efficient solar technologies, playing a pivotal role in the global transition toward sustainable energy sources. The future implications of recent research findings are far-reaching for the solar energy industry. The precision afforded by advancements in experimental techniques holds the potential for more reliable solar cell optimization. Broader accessibility ensures that these benefits are not confined to a select few but are disseminated across the solar cell research community, fostering collaboration and shared knowledge (Table  4 ). Mechanistic insights into thermal losses provide a roadmap for targeted interventions to mitigate efficiency reductions. This knowledge serves as a foundation for developing adaptive solar cell designs capable of withstanding and adapting to temperature variations. The integration of these findings into solar cell manufacturing processes holds the key to sustained efficiency and longevity, aligning with the industry's pursuit of more robust and reliable solar technologies.

Heat effects and heat transfer in solar systems

In any solar energy system, the conversion of sunlight into electricity is crucial, but it isn't perfectly efficient and can lead to heat generation. This section explores heat effects, transfer mechanisms, and losses associated with components like charge controllers, inverters, and wiring (Wei et al., 2021 ). Charge controllers regulate energy flow from solar panels to batteries, generating heat due to electrical resistance. Inverters convert DC to AC, introducing heat in semiconductors. Wiring and conductors experience resistive losses, producing heat (Din et al., 2023 ; Lipiński et al., 2021 ; Ma et al., 2021 ). Effective heat management is vital to prevent overheating. Conduction transfers heat through direct contact, using metal heat sinks to dissipate it. Convection involves fluid movement, with systems employing fans or liquid cooling for heat dissipation. Radiation uses electromagnetic waves, and solar components may incorporate radiative cooling techniques like heat-reflective coatings (Aghaei et al., 2020 ; Aslam et al., 2022 ; Nkounga et al., 2021 ). Heat can lead to energy losses and reduced efficiency. Electrical losses occur due to resistance in components like wires, cables, and connectors. Inverters, especially older models, may experience significant heat-related losses. High operating temperatures can reduce battery efficiency and lifespan (Hernández-Callejo et al., 2019 ; Sarath et al., 2023 ; Sharma et al., 2019 ). Efforts to mitigate heat effects include designing components to minimize heat generation and optimize dissipation. Active cooling systems, such as fans and liquid cooling, can be integrated into solar components. Regular monitoring and maintenance practices, along with choosing high-efficiency inverters and using appropriate wiring, contribute to preventing overheating and improving system efficiency (Fang et al., 2023 ; Zhou et al., 2015 ). In conclusion, heat generation, heat transfer, and losses resulting from the operation of solar system components are essential considerations for optimizing the efficiency and reliability of solar energy systems. Effective heat management techniques, along with advances in component design and technology, contribute to the overall performance and sustainability of solar power installations. Properly addressing heat effects ensures that solar systems continue to harness the sun's energy efficiently and effectively for clean and renewable electricity generation.

Table 5 offers an overview of heat effects, transfer mechanisms, losses, and mitigation strategies in various solar system components: Charge Controllers generate heat through electrical resistance, with conduction and convection facilitating heat transfer. Energy losses occur, impacting system efficiency. Mitigation involves using efficient semiconductors, cooling systems, and regular monitoring. Inverters produce heat during the DC to AC conversion, transferred through conduction and convection. Energy losses result from heat-related inefficiencies. Selecting high-efficiency inverters, implementing cooling systems, and efficient component design address heat effects. Wiring and Conductors experience heat generation due to electrical resistance, with conduction and convection causing energy losses. Proper sizing, rating of wiring, and efficient component design minimize these losses. Batteries in off-grid systems generate heat during charge/discharge cycles, with conduction and convection as heat transfer mechanisms. Issues include reduced efficiency and shortened lifespan, addressed through temperature monitoring and battery cooling systems. Solar Panels absorb sunlight, leading to heat generation transferred through conduction, convection, and radiation. Reduced panel efficiency is a concern, addressed through solar panel design, radiative cooling techniques, and regular cleaning and maintenance. Understanding these heat effects, transfer mechanisms, and losses is crucial for optimizing solar energy systems. Mitigation strategies, ranging from component design to cooling systems and monitoring, are employed to manage heat effectively and ensure the sustained performance of solar systems.

Figure  6 visually depicts heat transfer mechanisms in solar systems, illustrating how heat is generated and managed within different components. Heat generation occurs in charge controllers (electrical resistance), inverters (DC to AC conversion), wiring and conductors (electrical resistance), batteries (charge/discharge cycles), and solar panels (sunlight absorption). Conduction occurs through direct contact, convection through fluid movement, and radiation as electromagnetic waves emission. The figure shows heat transfer between components and the environment. For instance, charge controllers dissipate heat through conduction and convection, while inverters may use cooling systems. Solar panels utilize radiation for heat dissipation. Mitigation strategies, highlighted in the figure, include efficient component design, cooling systems (fans or liquid cooling), and regular temperature monitoring. Figure  6 a underscores the importance of managing heat effects for system efficiency and reliability. Figures  6 b and 3 c demonstrate heat transfer from the backside of solar panels to the hot side of TEC, using air-cooling and water-cooling mechanisms, providing a reference for addressing thermal challenges in solar energy installations (Malik et al., 2021 ).

figure 6

a Heat transfer mechanisms in solar systems. b Heat transfer mechanism from back side of solar panels to thermo-electric cells through air-cooling mechanism. c Heat transfer mechanism from back side of solar panels to thermo-electric cells through water-cooling mechanism. (Malik et al., 2021 )

Experimental methods for thermal analysis

The study of thermal effects on solar cells is a critical aspect of optimizing their performance and efficiency. Experimental techniques play a vital role in understanding how temperature variations influence solar cell behavior. In this section, we explore various experimental methods used to study thermal effects on solar cells, including thermal imaging, calorimetry, and temperature-dependent characterization. We will also highlight the advantages and limitations of each method, providing insights into their applicability and contributions to the field.

Various experimental techniques

Understanding various experimental techniques is vital for assessing thermal effects on solar cells. Thermal imaging, characterized by high spatial resolution, visually represents temperature variations, aiding in pinpointing areas of concern (Table  6 ). Figure  7 a illustrates temperature distribution across a solar cell surface, providing insights into localized thermal effects. The color gradient depicts varying temperatures, with a minimum temperature difference of 0.68 K between the center and corresponding edge (Fig.  7 a) and a maximum difference of 1.2 K between the center and corner (Fig.  7 b) (Zhou et al., 2015 ).

figure 7

a Temperature distribution across a solar cell, b Direction parallel to sideline and c diagonal direction (Zhou et al., 2015 )

Calorimetry, a crucial technique, provides accurate measurements of heat generated by solar cells, enabling a precise assessment of thermal effects (Table  7 ).

Temperature-dependent characterization techniques, explored in Table  8 , play a significant role in understanding and assessing thermal effects on solar cells.

Advantages and limitations of each method

Table 9 discussing the advantages and limitations of thermal imaging aids researchers in making informed decisions when selecting this technique for assessing thermal effects on solar cells.

Understanding the advantages and limitations (Table  10 ) of calorimetry assists researchers in evaluating its suitability for assessing thermal effects on solar cells.

Analyzing the advantages and limitations (Table  11 ) of temperature-dependent characterization helps researchers in selecting suitable methods for assessing thermal effects on solar cells.

In conclusion, understanding the thermal effects on solar cells is crucial for optimizing their performance in diverse environmental conditions. Experimental techniques such as thermal imaging, calorimetry, and temperature-dependent characterization offer valuable insights into how temperature variations influence solar cell behavior. Each method has its advantages and limitations, and researchers must choose the most suitable approach based on their specific research goals and available resources. Ultimately, these experimental techniques contribute to the ongoing efforts to enhance the efficiency and reliability of solar cell technology, further advancing the utilization of solar energy as a sustainable power source.

Factors influencing thermal effects

The thermal performance of solar cells is intricately linked to numerous external and internal factors. A comprehensive understanding of these elements is imperative for the optimization of efficiency and reliability in solar energy systems. This section delves into the key elements influencing thermal effects on solar cells.

External factors affecting solar cell temperature

External factors, such as climate, geographic location, and installation parameters, significantly impact the temperature of solar cells. In Table  12 , we explore the impact of climate and weather conditions on solar cell temperature, considering factors such as temperature extremes, seasonal variations, and cloud cover. In regions characterized by extreme temperatures, such as hot deserts or cold climates, solar cells may undergo variations in efficiency (Osma-Pinto & Ordóñez-Plata, 2019 ). The dynamic response of solar cells to temperature extremes is a critical consideration for system designers. Higher temperatures, typical in hot climates, can lead to increased thermal losses, potentially impacting the overall efficiency of the solar cell. Conversely, in extremely cold conditions, solar cells may experience reduced efficiency due to the constraints imposed by low temperatures. Seasonal changes play a pivotal role in influencing solar cell temperature. During winter in cold climates, solar cells may encounter reduced efficiency due to the colder temperatures (Salamah et al., 2022 ). Cold weather can affect the performance of solar cells by altering the behavior of charge carriers and increasing resistive losses. On the other hand, in hot climates during the summer, solar cells may face thermal losses. The trade-off between seasonal variations and optimal performance highlights the importance of considering regional climatic conditions in solar energy system planning. Cloudy or overcast conditions introduce another layer of complexity to solar cell temperature regulation. Reduced sunlight during cloudy conditions impacts both the temperature of the solar cell and its electricity generation efficiency (Weaver et al., 2022 ). The limited sunlight reaching the solar cell not only affects its temperature but also reduces the amount of energy available for conversion. Cloud cover, therefore, represents a significant external factor influencing solar cell temperature and, consequently, the overall performance of the solar energy system. Table 12 underscores the dynamic and multifaceted nature of solar cell temperature regulation in response to climate and weather conditions. The identified factors emphasize the trade-offs between extreme conditions and optimal performance. System designers and planners must carefully weigh these considerations to enhance the efficiency and reliability of solar energy systems, particularly in diverse environmental contexts. As the solar industry continues to expand into various geographic regions, a nuanced understanding of these climate-related influences becomes increasingly crucial for the successful implementation of solar energy technologies.

Table 13 delves into the influence of geographic location, specifically considering latitude and altitude, on solar cell temperature. Here, we examine the key considerations and discuss the implications for system planning. The proximity to the equator, expressed in terms of latitude, is a crucial determinant of solar cell temperature (Din et al., 2023 ). Closer proximity to the equator generally results in higher temperatures. Solar installations located near the equator receive more direct sunlight throughout the year, contributing to increased temperatures of solar cells. This temperature elevation is a vital aspect for system planners to consider, as it directly impacts the efficiency and overall performance of solar energy systems. The latitude factor highlights the need for tailored strategies and technologies in regions with higher temperatures to mitigate potential thermal losses. Altitude, or the elevation above sea level, is another geographic factor influencing solar cell temperature (Din et al., 2023 ). Higher altitudes tend to have lower average temperatures due to the cooler air at higher elevations. The impact of altitude on solar cell temperature is an essential consideration for installations in mountainous or elevated regions. While lower temperatures can be advantageous for solar cell efficiency, other factors, such as the potential for increased solar radiation exposure at higher altitudes, need to be weighed. System planners must balance the benefits and challenges associated with altitude to optimize the performance of solar energy systems. The discussion surrounding Table  13 emphasizes the significance of geographic location, specifically considering latitude and altitude, in influencing solar cell temperature. The observations underscore the importance of incorporating these geographical factors into system planning for solar energy installations. The latitude-altitude dynamics provide valuable insights for system designers, helping them tailor solar energy technologies and strategies to suit the specific climatic conditions of a given location. This nuanced approach is crucial for enhancing the efficiency, reliability, and overall success of solar energy systems in diverse geographic settings.

Table 14 provides insights into the impact of installation angle and orientation on solar cell temperature, emphasizing considerations related to tilt angles and panel orientations. Here, we delve into the key factors and discuss their implications for mitigating thermal effects. The tilt angle of solar panels plays a crucial role in determining solar cell temperature (Atsu et al., 2020 ). By adjusting the tilt angle based on the sun's position, solar cells can minimize their temperature, especially in hot climates. This adjustment optimizes the angle at which sunlight strikes the panels, reducing the absorption of excessive heat. The consideration of tilt angles is particularly relevant in regions with high temperatures, as it offers a practical and efficient means to regulate solar cell temperature. The importance of this factor lies in its ability to enhance overall energy yield by maintaining optimal operating conditions. The orientation of solar panels, whether facing north–south or east–west, significantly influences the amount of sunlight received and, consequently, solar cell temperature (Atsu et al., 2020 ). The direction in which panels are oriented determines their exposure to direct sunlight. System planners must strategically decide the orientation based on the solar path and prevailing climate conditions. Optimizing panel orientation is a key aspect of thermal management, ensuring that solar cells receive sunlight effectively without being subjected to excessive heating. The discussion of orientation underscores the importance of thoughtful planning in maximizing energy production while minimizing thermal impacts. Table 14 underscores the significance of optimizing tilt angles and panel orientations to mitigate thermal effects on solar cells. The considerations related to tilt angle adjustments and panel orientations provide practical strategies for system planners to regulate solar cell temperature. By strategically addressing these factors, it becomes possible to achieve a balance between energy efficiency and thermal management.

Internal factors within solar cell materials and designs

Internal factors related to solar cell materials, designs, encapsulation, electrical configuration, and tracking systems significantly influence thermal effects. Table 15 provides a comprehensive overview of the impact of solar cell material on thermal performance, focusing on factors such as material bandgap and thermal conductivity. The internal characteristics of solar cell materials play a crucial role in shaping their thermal behavior, and this discussion aims to shed light on the considerations presented in the table. The bandgap of solar cell materials significantly influences their ability to absorb photons, and this, in turn, affects their susceptibility to thermal losses (An et al., 2019 ). Materials with smaller bandgaps can absorb lower-energy photons, expanding their absorption spectrum but potentially making them more prone to thermal losses. The discussion around material bandgap underscores the delicate balance that must be struck between maximizing photon absorption and minimizing thermal effects. System designers and material scientists must carefully consider this trade-off to optimize the thermal performance of solar cells. This consideration becomes particularly important in environments with varying temperature conditions, where the material's response to thermal stress plays a critical role in overall efficiency. The thermal conductivity of solar cell materials is a key determinant of their ability to manage temperature variations effectively (An et al., 2019 ). Materials with higher thermal conductivity can efficiently dissipate heat, contributing to better thermal management within the solar cell. This characteristic becomes crucial in scenarios where solar cells are subjected to fluctuating environmental temperatures. The discussion on material thermal conductivity emphasizes the importance of selecting materials that strike a balance between their electrical properties and thermal behavior. Achieving a favorable compromise allows for optimal solar cell performance in diverse climatic conditions. Table 15 delves into the internal factors of solar cell materials and their impact on thermal performance. The discussion highlights the intricate trade-offs involved in choosing materials with specific bandgaps and thermal conductivities. Careful consideration of these factors is paramount for system designers and researchers seeking to enhance the efficiency and reliability of solar cells.

Figure  8 (Sze, 1981 ) provides a comprehensive view of ideal solar cell efficiency concerning the band gap energy, considering different spectral distributions and power densities. The plot illustrates the efficiency variations under the spectral distributions AM0, AM1.5 at 1 sun, and AM1.5 at 1000 suns. The data underscores the critical role of band gap energy in determining the optimal efficiency of solar cells under varying solar conditions. For instance, the chart reveals the influence of band gap energy on efficiency, showcasing how different band gap values respond to sunlight at different power densities. This insight is valuable for researchers and engineers aiming to design solar cells tailored to specific environmental conditions and power requirements. It highlights the trade-offs between band gap energy and efficiency, emphasizing the need for a nuanced approach in solar cell design to achieve optimal performance across diverse operational scenarios.

figure 8

Solar cell efficiency across different band gap energies under various spectral distributions and power densities (Sze, 1981 )

Table 16 provides a comprehensive overview of how various design elements influence thermal effects in solar cells. The internal factors within solar cell designs, such as anti-reflective coatings, back-side reflectors, cell thickness, and bypass diodes, play a crucial role in shaping the thermal performance of the solar cell. This discussion aims to provide insights into the considerations presented in the table. The incorporation of anti-reflective coatings in solar cell design serves as an effective strategy to reduce the absorption of sunlight, consequently lowering the cell temperature (Sze, 1981 ). By minimizing sunlight absorption, anti-reflective coatings contribute to temperature regulation and enhance the overall performance of the solar cell. This discussion underscores the positive impact of anti-reflective coatings in mitigating thermal effects, especially in environments where excessive heating may pose challenges to efficiency. Back-side reflectors, as outlined in Table  16 , redirect unabsorbed sunlight back into the solar cell, potentially increasing its temperature (Sze, 1981 ). This design element introduces a nuanced aspect to thermal effects, as the redirection of sunlight may lead to localized heating. System designers must carefully weigh the benefits and drawbacks of incorporating back-side reflectors, considering the specific environmental conditions in which the solar cells will operate. The discussion emphasizes the need for a comprehensive understanding of the thermal consequences associated with different design choices. The thickness of solar cells, as presented in Table  16 , influences their thermal mass, impacting the rate of temperature changes and differences across the cell (Gupta et al., 2019 ). Thicker cells exhibit higher thermal mass, resulting in slower temperature changes but potentially greater temperature variations within the cell. This consideration highlights the importance of balancing thermal mass with the desired rate of response to environmental temperature fluctuations. System designers must tailor cell thickness to the specific requirements of the intended operating conditions, aiming for optimal thermal performance. Bypass diodes, as discussed in Table  16 , serve as a mitigation strategy for hotspots and thermal effects by allowing current to bypass overheating or shaded cells (Gupta et al., 2019 ). The incorporation of bypass diodes contributes to the overall resilience of solar panels in diverse conditions, enhancing their performance and longevity. The discussion emphasizes the critical role of bypass diodes in managing thermal effects and maintaining the efficiency of solar cell arrays, especially in scenarios where cells may experience non-uniform sunlight exposure. Table 16 offers valuable insights into the influence of solar cell design on thermal effects. The discussion emphasizes the dual nature of certain design elements, such as back-side reflectors, and underscores the need for a nuanced approach in optimizing solar cell performance. Design choices play a pivotal role in either mitigating or exacerbating thermal effects, and a thoughtful consideration of these factors is essential for advancing the efficiency and reliability of solar cells in varying environmental conditions.

Table 17 provides a comprehensive overview of the factors related to encapsulation and packaging that influence the thermal performance of solar cells. This discussion aims to delve into the considerations outlined in the table, shedding light on the crucial role of encapsulation and packaging in managing solar cell temperature. As highlighted in Table  17 , the choice of encapsulation materials significantly impacts the ability of solar cells to dissipate heat effectively. The materials must possess good thermal conductivity to facilitate the efficient transfer of heat away from the solar cells (Yue et al., 2021 ). Effective encapsulation ensures that heat generated during the operation of solar cells is adequately conducted away, preventing thermal buildup that could compromise the cells' efficiency and reliability. The discussion underscores the importance of selecting materials with superior thermal conductivity in the encapsulation process to optimize thermal performance. Proper ventilation and cooling systems, as indicated in Table  17 , play a critical role in maintaining optimal temperatures for solar cells (Yue et al., 2021 ). In solar installations, where temperature regulation is essential for sustained performance, effective ventilation and cooling become paramount. These systems help dissipate excess heat, preventing the solar cells from reaching temperatures that could adversely affect their efficiency and longevity. The discussion emphasizes the need for well-designed ventilation and cooling mechanisms as integral components of solar cell systems, contributing to the overall thermal management strategy. Table 17 underscores the significance of encapsulation and packaging in influencing the thermal performance of solar cells. The discussion emphasizes the dual role of encapsulation materials in providing structural support and facilitating efficient heat dissipation. The choice of materials and the implementation of ventilation and cooling systems are pivotal considerations in optimizing solar cell temperature. A thoughtful approach to encapsulation and packaging design contributes to the overarching goal of enhancing the efficiency and reliability of solar cells, particularly in the face of dynamic environmental conditions.

Table 18 provides a succinct overview of the influence of electrical and wiring configurations on the temperature of solar cells. This discussion delves into the considerations outlined in the table, emphasizing how the arrangement of solar cell connections and the efficiency of inverters impact the thermal performance of the entire solar energy system. The choice between series and parallel wiring, as highlighted in Table  18 , is a critical consideration in solar cell installations. Series wiring can affect how individual cells heat up and cool down during operation. Specifically, series wiring may lead to higher operating temperatures in individual cells (Pásztory, 2021 ). This is a result of the cumulative effect where the current passing through each connected cell contributes to its temperature. The discussion underscores the importance of carefully selecting the wiring configuration based on the specific requirements of the solar energy system and the desired balance between efficiency and thermal considerations. Inverter efficiency, as indicated in Table  18 , is a crucial factor influencing thermal effects on solar cells. Inverters play a central role in converting the direct current (DC) generated by solar cells into alternating current (AC) for use in homes or the grid. The efficiency of this conversion process is paramount, as less efficient inverters may produce more waste heat (Pásztory, 2021 ). The discussion highlights the need for selecting high-efficiency inverters to minimize the impact of waste heat on the overall temperature of the solar energy system. This becomes particularly relevant.

Table 19 succinctly presents the considerations associated with different tracking systems and their impact on solar cell temperature. This discussion provides insights into the role of tracking systems in influencing the thermal performance of solar cells, with a focus on the distinctions between single-axis and dual-axis tracking. The central point in Table  19 revolves around the choice between single-axis and dual-axis tracking systems. Single-axis tracking systems adjust the tilt of solar panels in one direction, typically east to west, to follow the sun's path across the sky. On the other hand, dual-axis tracking systems offer a more precise adjustment by altering both tilt and azimuth to track the sun more accurately (Sani et al., 2022 ). The discussion emphasizes that while tracking systems can enhance energy yield by optimizing sunlight exposure, they may also introduce additional thermal stress on solar cells, especially when in motion. The considerations outlined in Table  19 are crucial for system planners and operators. The decision between single-axis and dual-axis tracking involves a trade-off between increased energy generation and the potential introduction of additional thermal stress on solar cells. Single-axis tracking is generally less complex and may be more suitable for certain installations, whereas dual-axis tracking provides enhanced accuracy in following the sun's movement.

Mitigation strategies for thermal effects on solar cells

The adverse effects of temperature on solar cells are a well-known challenge in the field of photovoltaics. To maximize the efficiency and lifespan of solar energy systems, it's essential to implement effective mitigation strategies. In this section, we will explore various approaches to mitigate the negative impact of temperature on solar cells, including passive and active cooling techniques, as well as the use of advanced materials and designs to enhance thermal stability (Luo et al., 2020 ). Figure  9 provides a visual comparison of different cooling techniques for solar cells (Dwivedi et al., 2020 ). It shows passive cooling, which relies on natural processes, and active cooling, which involves mechanical systems. The figure highlights the advantages and limitations of each technique, helping engineers and researchers choose the most suitable cooling method for specific solar installations.

figure 9

a Comparison of cooling techniques, b Passive radiative sky cooling and c Model of a P.V. panel with heat sink (Dwivedi et al., 2020 )

Strategies to mitigate adverse effects of temperature

Mitigating the adverse effects of temperature on solar cells involves employing various strategies. Passive cooling techniques aim to dissipate heat from solar cells without the need for active mechanical systems. They rely on natural processes, including radiative cooling using materials with high emissivity, natural convection facilitated by well-designed solar panels, and shading or elevation to reduce direct ground exposure (Akin et al., 2020 ; Dwivedi et al., 2020 ; Kazem et al., 2020 ). On the other hand, active cooling techniques utilize mechanical systems to actively remove excess heat. Forced convection involves using fans or blowers to enhance heat dissipation, especially effective in regions where natural convection is insufficient. Liquid cooling systems circulate a heat-transfer fluid through channels on the back of solar panels, absorbing heat and cooling before recirculation. Additionally, phase-change materials (PCMs) can be integrated into solar panel designs to regulate temperature by absorbing excess heat during the day and releasing it at night. These strategies collectively contribute to optimizing the efficiency and reliability of solar energy systems (Liu et al., 2021 ; He et al., 2020 ; Ravishankar et al., 2020 ; Xu et al., 2021 ). Table 20 distinguishes between passive and active cooling techniques. Passive cooling relies on natural convection, radiation, and other phenomena to dissipate heat, while active cooling involves the use of fans, liquid cooling, or other mechanical methods to actively remove heat from solar cells.

Advanced materials and designs to enhance thermal stability

Enhancing the thermal stability of solar cells involves the integration of advanced materials, improved designs, smart technologies, nanomaterials, and advanced manufacturing techniques (Li et al., 2020 ). Utilizing thermally conductive substrates like aluminum or copper helps spread and dissipate heat effectively, reducing localized hotspots. Thermal barrier coatings on solar panels minimize heat absorption and transfer, with reflective properties to reduce thermal load. Enhanced encapsulation materials with high thermal conductivity efficiently dissipate heat from the solar cells (Dwivedi et al., 2020 ; Tawalbeh et al., 2021 ). Optimizing solar cell designs includes the use of bifacial solar cells capturing sunlight from both sides to reduce absorbed heat. Back-side reflectors redirect unabsorbed sunlight, minimizing heat absorption. Advanced designs may incorporate selective emitter structures improving electrical performance at high temperatures (Aydin et al., 2019 ; Gupta et al., 2019 ). Integrating smart and adaptive technologies enhances thermal management. Embedded temperature sensors monitor cell temperatures in real-time, adjusting cooling systems or shading devices as needed. Advanced tracking systems adjust panel orientation to optimize energy generation and reduce thermal stress (Hachicha et al., 2019 ). Nanomaterials contribute to thermal stability through thin nanocoatings controlling heat absorption and dissipation. Nanofluids, consisting of nanoparticles in a liquid, enhance the efficiency of liquid cooling systems (Chen & Park, 2020 ; Wang et al., 2020 ). Advanced manufacturing techniques further enhance thermal stability. Multi-junction solar cells with multiple semiconductor layers achieve higher efficiencies and are less susceptible to thermal losses. Thin-film solar cells, inherently less thermally sensitive, are suitable for a wider range of operating conditions (Ilse et al., 2019 ; Santhakumari & Sagar, 2019 ).

Case studies: influence of thermal effects on solar cell performance

To gain a deeper understanding of the impact of thermal effects on solar cell performance, it is instructive to examine real-world case studies across different geographic regions and climatic conditions. In this section, we present case studies that highlight the diverse challenges and solutions associated with thermal effects on solar cells, drawing upon relevant studies and data.

Case studies in various geographic regions and climatic conditions

Exploring case studies from diverse geographic regions reveals the varied impacts of climate on solar cell performance. In the scorching heat of Nevada, USA, where temperatures often exceed 100°F (37.8°C), solar cell efficiency faces challenges. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas, conducted a study highlighting the impact of high temperatures on photovoltaic systems. Actively cooled systems, incorporating fans and water cooling, outperformed passive systems during peak heat. However, passive systems with efficient natural convection still maintained acceptable performance (Devitt et al., 2020 ). In the Arctic conditions of Northern Norway, within the Arctic Circle, harsh winters with sub-zero temperatures affect solar cell efficiency. Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology discovered that utilizing bifacial solar panels, capturing light from both sides, enhanced energy generation during the low-light winter months, mitigating the adverse effects of extreme cold (Berge et al., 2015 ). Moving to Malaysia, situated near the equator with high humidity and frequent rainfall, solar cell performance faces different challenges. While high temperatures are typical in tropical regions, humidity can lead to corrosion and electrical leakage. A study by Universiti Teknologi Malaysia emphasized the importance of using advanced encapsulation materials and regular maintenance to mitigate humidity-related issues, prolonging the lifespan of solar panels in humid climates (Wong et al., 2018 ).

Case studies: data and findings from relevant studies

Exploring relevant case studies sheds light on the diverse impacts of temperature on solar panel performance. In a study examining the impact of temperature on thin-film solar panels across various climates, researchers observed that while thin-film panels were less susceptible to thermal losses in extreme heat, their efficiency decreased compared to silicon panels in temperate regions. This emphasizes the need to carefully choose panel technology based on the specific climatic conditions of a region (Rahman et al., 2023 ). Saudi Arabia, known for its hot desert climate, presented unique challenges in a study by researchers from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). They found that extreme heat, coupled with dust accumulation on solar panels, significantly reduced solar cell efficiency. To address this, the researchers proposed an innovative self-cleaning solar panel system with a hydrophobic coating and integrated microscale channels. This approach demonstrated promising results in maintaining panel performance in harsh desert environments (Rubaiee et al., 2021 ). A comprehensive study conducted by researchers from the University of California, Merced, focused on temperature-dependent performance modeling of solar panels across diverse climates. The study emphasized the importance of accurate modeling considering environmental factors, material properties, and panel design. By incorporating real-world data from various regions and climates, researchers could optimize solar panel designs and develop effective cooling strategies tailored to specific environmental conditions (Al-Housani et al., 2019 ). Table 21 illustrates how solar cell efficiency can vary in different climate zones. Desert regions experience high temperatures that reduce efficiency, while temperate climates offer more favorable conditions. Arctic regions may face efficiency challenges due to extreme cold, and tropical climates may contend with high humidity affecting performance.

Future trends and research directions: addressing thermal challenges in solar cells

As the world increasingly turns to solar energy as a sustainable power source, the need to address thermal challenges in solar cells becomes more critical. Researchers and innovators are continually exploring emerging technologies and research areas to enhance the efficiency and reliability of photovoltaic systems. In this section, we will discuss the future trends and research directions aimed at tackling the thermal challenges faced by solar cells, highlighting potential breakthroughs and innovations.

Emerging technologies and research areas

Ongoing research in emerging technologies focuses on advancing materials and cooling techniques to enhance the thermal stability of solar cells and improve overall performance. One avenue of research involves developing advanced materials tailored to withstand thermal stresses. Innovations include the exploration of thermal barrier coatings with reflective properties to reduce heat absorption and enhance dissipation (Al-Fartoos et al., 2023 ). Nanotechnology offers opportunities to engineer nanocoatings and nanofluids, providing enhanced thermal regulation when applied to solar cells. Additionally, the study of thermoelectric materials is underway, aiming to capture waste heat from solar cells and convert it into additional electricity, thereby increasing overall energy yield (Song et al., 2023 ). In the realm of cooling technologies, researchers are exploring microfluidic cooling systems with tiny channels within solar panels to circulate cooling fluids effectively (Liu et al., 2018 ). Phase-Change Materials (PCMs) with tailored phase-change temperatures are being investigated for their ability to store and release heat at specific thresholds, contributing to precise thermal regulation. Hybrid cooling systems, combining active and passive cooling strategies, are also being explored to optimize thermal management 146]. The integration of smart and adaptive technologies is gaining momentum. Machine learning and AI algorithms are being employed to analyze real-time data from temperature sensors and weather forecasts, optimizing solar panel operations. Bifacial solar panels, capturing sunlight from both sides, are becoming more prevalent to enhance energy generation and alleviate thermal effects. Dynamic shading and tracking systems are under development to adapt to changing environmental conditions, mitigating excessive sunlight exposure and minimizing thermal stress on panels (Riedel-Lyngskær et al., 2020 ; Johansson et al., 2022 ).

Potential breakthroughs and innovations

Quantum dots and perovskite solar cells are emerging as potential transformative technologies in the solar industry, offering promising solutions to thermal challenges. Quantum dots, semiconductor nanocrystals with unique optical and electronic properties, are being investigated for their potential impact. Researchers are exploring quantum-dot-based solar cells that can capture a broader spectrum of sunlight. This has the dual advantage of reducing heat absorption by the cell and enhancing overall efficiency (Chen & Zhao, 2020 ). Perovskite solar cells are highly efficient and demonstrate superior thermal stability. Ongoing research is dedicated to improving the scalability and long-term stability of perovskite solar cells, making them more viable for widespread commercial applications. These breakthroughs hold the promise of further advancing the efficiency and reliability of solar energy systems (Lim et al., 2022 ). Table 22 outlines potential breakthroughs in solar cell technology. Quantum dots and perovskite cells have shown promise in increasing efficiency. Transparent solar panels offer aesthetic integration, while space-based solar power eliminates atmospheric issues. Tandem cells combine materials for both efficiency and thermal management improvements. These innovations represent exciting directions in solar energy research.

Transparent solar panels, designed for integration into windows and building materials, present opportunities to enhance aesthetics and reduce heat absorption. Researchers are exploring materials such as organic photovoltaics and transparent conductive oxides to create these panels, capturing sunlight without inducing significant heat buildup. Building integration of transparent solar panels seamlessly incorporates them into architectural designs, offering an alternative to traditional opaque panels that may contribute to thermal issues on building surfaces. Figure  10 visually illustrates the architectural applications, showcasing solar panels integrated into rooftops and façades, emphasizing their aesthetic and functional potential for sustainable building practices and energy generation (Pulli et al., 2020 ). Figure  10 showcases the integration of solar panels into building designs. It demonstrates various architectural applications, such as solar panels integrated into rooftops and façades (Vasiliev et al., 2019 ). This visual representation emphasizes the aesthetic and functional potential of solar panels, contributing to sustainable building practices and energy generation.

figure 10

Solar panel integration in buildings (Vasiliev et al., 2019 )

Space-based solar power (SBSP) is a visionary concept involving the collection of solar energy in space and transmitting it to Earth using microwave or laser beams. While in theoretical research, SBSP could potentially address terrestrial solar panel thermal challenges by operating in a consistent temperature environment free from atmospheric effects and benefiting from continuous sunlight (Baum et al., 2022 ; Saha et al., 2015 ). Perovskite-silicon tandem solar cells, combining perovskite and silicon technologies, hold the potential to significantly enhance solar cell efficiency while addressing thermal issues. Tandem cells leverage the strengths of both technologies, optimizing materials to minimize thermal losses and enhance overall thermal stability (Akhil et al., 2021 ). The solar industry's increasing focus on sustainability includes recycling and repurposing solar panels. Advanced recycling techniques aim to recover valuable materials from end-of-life solar panels, reducing environmental impact and lowering the demand for new materials. Sustainable manufacturing methods are also under exploration to minimize energy consumption and thermal waste during panel production (Daniela-Abigail et al., 2022 ). In conclusion, addressing thermal challenges in solar cells is pivotal for the future of solar energy. Emerging technologies, from quantum dots to transparent panels, space-based solar power, tandem cells, and recycling methods, offer promising solutions. These innovations have the potential to reshape solar energy production, unlocking higher efficiency, greater reliability, and a more sustainable future for solar energy systems. Ongoing research in these areas is key to advancing the solar industry towards a greener and more efficient future.

Conclusion: addressing thermal effects for enhanced solar cell efficiency

In this comprehensive review, we have delved into the complex world of thermal effects on solar cells, exploring their mechanisms, impact, and various strategies for mitigation. As the world increasingly turns to solar energy as a key component of the renewable energy landscape, understanding and addressing thermal challenges in solar cells are of paramount importance. In this concluding section, we summarize the key findings and insights from the review, emphasize the significance of mitigating thermal effects for improving solar cell efficiency, and provide practical recommendations for researchers, engineers, and policymakers.

Key findings and insights

In the course of this review, several noteworthy findings have surfaced. Thermal effects on solar cells emerge as a pervasive and intricate challenge, considering that solar panels contend with a broad spectrum of temperatures, significantly influencing their efficiency and durability. Elevated temperatures, a common factor, precipitate reduced solar cell efficiency by fostering electron–hole recombination, modifying the bandgap properties of materials, and introducing resistive losses. The exploration of various mitigation strategies has been integral. Passive and active cooling techniques, advanced materials, smart and adaptive technologies, and innovative designs have been examined to regulate temperature and enhance the overall thermal stability of solar panels. The advent of emerging technologies adds an exciting dimension. Quantum dots, perovskite solar cells, transparent panels, and space-based solar power showcase potential breakthroughs, promising to reshape the solar industry by effectively addressing thermal challenges and elevating efficiency. The growing emphasis on sustainability and recycling in solar panel manufacturing and end-of-life disposal is another key insight. Sustainable practices and recycling methods are gaining prominence, offering avenues to reduce the environmental impact and enhance the lifecycle management of solar panels.

Importance of understanding and addressing thermal effects

Understanding and addressing thermal effects on solar cells holds immense significance for various reasons. Firstly, it directly influences efficiency, a critical factor in optimizing energy generation within solar energy systems. A comprehensive approach to managing thermal challenges can result in efficiency gains, ultimately maximizing the energy yield of photovoltaic systems. Secondly, the longevity and reliability of solar panels, considered as long-term investments, hinge on effective thermal management. By mitigating thermal effects, the lifespan of solar panels can be extended, reducing maintenance costs and enhancing overall performance over the years. Economic viability is another crucial aspect. The efficiency of energy production and low operating costs are essential for the economic sustainability of solar energy. Addressing thermal effects directly contributes to cost-effectiveness, improving the return on investment for solar installations. Lastly, sustainability is a key driver behind the adoption of solar energy, contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and environmental sustainability. Managing thermal effects aligns seamlessly with sustainability goals by ensuring the efficient utilization of solar resources, thereby reinforcing the role of solar energy in environmentally friendly energy solutions.

Practical recommendations

Practical recommendations for stakeholders in the solar energy sector involve a multifaceted approach. Researchers are encouraged to advance materials science by exploring advanced materials with enhanced thermal properties. Collaborative research, particularly interdisciplinary efforts, is essential for developing comprehensive solutions that address both electrical and thermal aspects of solar panels. Innovations in cooling technologies, such as microfluidic systems and phase-change materials, should be a focal point. Additionally, researchers should invest in modeling and simulation tools that accurately consider thermal effects in diverse environmental conditions. Engineers play a vital role in implementing effective cooling strategies tailored to specific environmental conditions. This includes the adoption of smart technologies, such as AI-driven tracking systems and dynamic shading devices, to optimize solar panel performance in real-time. Regular maintenance protocols, including cleaning to mitigate dust accumulation, and monitoring solar panel temperatures and performance, are crucial for early anomaly detection. Policymakers are urged to incentivize sustainable practices by creating policies that promote eco-friendly manufacturing processes for solar panels and support recycling programs to reduce environmental impact. Allocating resources to research and development in solar energy, with a specific focus on addressing thermal challenges and fostering innovation, is paramount. Furthermore, policymakers can accelerate the transition to renewable energy sources by encouraging solar adoption through favorable policies, including tax incentives, feed-in tariffs, and net metering. In conclusion, the future of solar energy is bright, but addressing thermal effects on solar cells is an essential component of unlocking its full potential. As we continue to advance in materials science, cooling technologies, and sustainable practices, we move closer to a world where solar energy is not only an efficient and reliable power source but also a cornerstone of a sustainable and environmentally conscious future. By understanding the complexities of thermal effects and embracing innovative solutions, we can harness the power of the sun to create a greener and more sustainable world for generations to come.

Availability of data and materials

The data and materials used in this review are sourced from publicly available scientific literature, research publications, and reputable online databases. Any specific data or materials cited in the manuscript can be referenced by the corresponding author upon request.

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The authors' contributions to this research project and manuscript are as follows: LMS contributed to the conceptualization, literature review, and data analysis, and played a significant role in writing and revising the manuscript. AAAA provided valuable insights into the theoretical aspects of thermal effects on solar cells and contributed to the critical analysis of relevant literature. MMH participated in the data collection and analysis, particularly in the sections related to experimental methods and case studies, and contributed to the manuscript's writing and editing. WKAA contributed to the discussions on emerging technologies and research directions, as well as the potential breakthroughs in the field. AAHK played a crucial role in reviewing and editing the manuscript for clarity, coherence, and scientific rigor.

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Photovoltaic Cell Generations and Current Research Directions for Their Development

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The purpose of this paper is to discuss the different generations of photovoltaic cells and current research directions focusing on their development and manufacturing technologies. The introduction describes the importance of photovoltaics in the context of environmental protection, as well as the elimination of fossil sources. It then focuses on presenting the known generations of photovoltaic cells to date, mainly in terms of the achievable solar-to-electric conversion efficiencies, as well as the technology for their manufacture. In particular, the third generation of photovoltaic cells and recent trends in its field, including multi-junction cells and cells with intermediate energy levels in the forbidden band of silicon, are discussed. We also present the latest developments in photovoltaic cell manufacturing technology, using the fourth-generation graphene-based photovoltaic cells as an example. An extensive review of the world literature led us to the conclusion that, despite the appearance of newer types of photovoltaic cells, silicon cells still have the largest market share, and research into ways to improve their efficiency is still relevant.

1. Introduction

Concerns about climate change and the increase in demand for electricity due to, among other things, an ever-growing population, necessitate efforts to move away from conventional methods of energy production. Rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere caused by the use of fossil fuels is one of the factors causing ongoing climate change. Switching to renewable energy will produce energy with a smaller environmental footprint compared to fossil fuel sources. We are able to harness the full potential of sunlight energy to develop the best possible energy harvesting technologies capable of converting solar energy into electricity [ 1 ].

The currently used solar energy is very marginal—0.015% is used for electricity production, 0.3% for heating, and 11% is used in the natural photosynthesis of biomass. In contrast, about 80–85% of global energy needs are met by fossil fuels. The difficulty with fossil fuels is that their resources are limited and hostile to the environment due to their CO 2 emissions. For instance, for every ton of coal burned, one ton of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. This emitted carbon dioxide is toxic to the environment and is a primary cause of global warming, the greenhouse effect, climate change, and ozone depletion [ 2 ].

The necessity of finding new renewable energy forms is extremely relevant and urgent today. That is why mankind must find alternative sources of energy to provide a clean and sustainable future. Within this context, solar energy is the best option among all alternative renewable energy sources due to its widespread accessibility, universality, and eco-friendly nature [ 3 ].

The most common metric used to evaluate the performance of photovoltaic technologies is conversion efficiency, which expresses the ratio of solar energy input to electrical energy output. The efficiency combines multiple component characteristics of the system, such as short-circuit current, open-circuit voltage, and fill factor, which in turn are dependent upon basic material features and manufacturing defects [ 4 ].

The cost-effectiveness of making a photovoltaic cell and its efficiency depend on the material from which it is made. Much research in this field has been carried out to find the material that is the most efficient and cost-effective for building photovoltaic cells. The specifications for an ideal material for PV solar cells include the following [ 5 ]:

  • The cells are expected to have a band gap between 1.1 and 1.7 eV;
  • Should have a direct band structure;
  • Need to be easily accessible and non-toxic; and
  • Should have high photovoltaic conversion efficiency [ 5 ].

A key problem in the area of photovoltaic cell development is the development of methods to achieve the highest possible efficiency at the lowest possible production cost. Improving the efficiency of solar cells is possible by using effective ways to reduce the internal losses of the cell. There are three basic types of losses: optical, quantum, and electrical, which have different sources of origin. Reducing losses of any kind requires different, often advanced, methods of cell manufacturing and photovoltaic module production. An upper efficiency limit for commercially accessible technologies is determined by the well-known Shockley–Queisser (SQ) limit, taking into account the balance between photogeneration and radiative recombination [ 6 ].

However, the greatest potential lies in the ability to reduce quantum losses, as they are intimately connected with the material properties and internal structure of the cell. Relevant here is the concept of band gap, which defines the minimum required energy of a photon incident onto the cell surface for it to take part in the photovoltaic conversion process. There is a relationship between the efficiency of the cell and the value of the band gap, which in turn is highly dependent on the material from which the photovoltaic cell is made. The basic, commonly used material for solar cells is silicon, which has a band gap value of about 1.12 eV, but by introducing modifications in its crystal structure, the physical properties of the material, especially the band gap width, can be affected [ 7 ].

The dominant loss mechanisms in conventional photovoltaic cells are the inability to absorb photons below the band gap and the thermalization of solar photons with energies above the band gap energy. Third-generation solar cell concepts have been proposed to address these two loss mechanisms in an attempt to improve solar cell performance. These solutions aim to exploit the entire spectrum by incorporating novel mechanisms to create new electron–hole pairs [ 8 ].

Major development potential among these concepts for improving the power generation efficiency of solar cells made of silicon is shown by the idea of cells whose basic feature is an additional intermediate band in the band gap model of silicon. It is located between the conduction band and the valence band, and its function is to allow the absorption of photons with energies below the width of the energy gap, resulting in higher quantum efficiency (a higher number of excited electrons in relation to the number of photons incident onto the surface of the cell) [ 9 ]. Currently, many directions of research development on the introduction of intermediate bands in semiconductors can be identified. One of them is the use of ion implantation, where two methods can be distinguished: introduction of dopants with extremely high concentrations to the substrate of the semiconductor, and implantation of the layer of silicon with high-dose metal ions [ 10 ].

The improvement of solar cell efficiency involves reducing various types of losses affecting the resultant cell efficiency. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) runs a compilation of the highest verified research cell conversion efficiencies for different photovoltaic technologies, compiled from 1976 to the present ( Figure 1 ). Cell efficiency results are given for each semiconductor family: multi-junction cells; gallium arsenide single-junction cells; crystalline silicon cells; thin film technologies; emerging photovoltaic technologies. The latest world record for an individual technology is indicated by a flag across the right edge containing the efficiency and technology symbol [ 11 ].

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NREL Best Research-Cell Efficiencies chart [ 11 ].

Photovoltaic cells can be categorized by four main generations: first, second, third, and fourth generation. The details of each are discussed in the next section.

2. Photovoltaic Cell Generations

In the past decade, photovoltaics have become a major contributor to the ongoing energy transition. Advances relating to materials and manufacturing methods have had a significant role behind that development. However, there are still numerous challenges before photovoltaics can provide cleaner and low-cost energy. Research in this direction is focused on efficient photovoltaic devices such as multi-junction cells, graphene or intermediate band gap cells, and printable solar cell materials such as quantum dots [ 12 ].

The primary role of a photovoltaic cell is to receive solar radiation as pure light and transform it into electrical energy in a conversion process called the photovoltaic effect. There are several technologies involved with the manufacturing process of photovoltaic cells, using material modification with different photoelectric conversion efficiencies in the cell components. Due to the emergence of many non-conventional manufacturing methods for fabricating functioning solar cells, photovoltaic technologies can be divided into four major generations, which is shown in Figure 2 [ 13 ].

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Various solar cell types and current developments within this field [ 14 ].

The generations of various photovoltaic cells essentially tell the story of the stages of their past evolution. There are four main categories that are described as the generations of photovoltaic technology for the last few decades, since the invention of solar cells [ 15 ]:

  • First Generation: This category includes photovoltaic cell technologies based on monocrystalline and polycrystalline silicon and gallium arsenide (GaAs).
  • Second Generation: This generation includes the development of first-generation photovoltaic cell technology, as well as the development of thin film photovoltaic cell technology from “microcrystalline silicon (µc-Si) and amorphous silicon (a-Si), copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) and cadmium telluride/cadmium sulfide (CdTe/CdS) photovoltaic cells”.
  • Third Generation: This generation counts photovoltaic technologies that are based on more recent chemical compounds. In addition, technologies using nanocrystalline “films,” quantum dots, dye-sensitized solar cells, solar cells based on organic polymers, etc., also belong to this generation.
  • Fourth Generation: This generation includes the low flexibility or low cost of thin film polymers along with the durability of “innovative inorganic nanostructures such as metal oxides and metal nanoparticles or organic-based nanomaterials such as graphene, carbon nanotubes and graphene derivatives” [ 15 ].

Examples of solar cell types for each generation along with average efficiencies are shown in Figure 3 .

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Examples of photovoltaic cell efficiencies [ 16 ].

2.1. First Generation of Photovoltaic Cells

Silicon-based PV cells were the first sector of photovoltaics to enter the market, using processing information and raw materials supplied by the industry of microelectronics. Solar cells based on silicon now comprise more than 80% of the world’s installed capacity and have a 90% market share. Due to their relatively high efficiency, they are the most commonly used cells. The first generation of photovoltaic cells includes materials based on thick crystalline layers composed of Si silicon. This generation is based on mono-, poly-, and multicrystalline silicon, as well as single III-V junctions (GaAs) [ 17 , 18 ].

Comparison of first-generation photovoltaic cells [ 18 ]:

  • Solar cells based on monocrystalline silicon (m-si)

Efficiency : 15 ÷ 24%; Band gap : ~1.1 eV; Life span : 25 years; Advantages : Stability, high performance, long service life; Restrictions : High manufacturing cost, more temperature sensitivity, absorption problem, material loss.

  • Solar cells based on polycrystalline silicon (p-si)

Efficiency : 10 ÷ 18%; Band gap : ~1.7 eV; Life span : 14 years; Advantages : Manufacturing procedure is simple, profitable, decreases the waste of silicon, higher absorption compared to m-si; Restrictions : Lower efficiency, higher temperature sensitivity.

  • Solar cells based on GaAs

Efficiency : 28 ÷ 30%; Band gap : ~1.43 eV; Life span : 18 years; Advantages : High stability, lower temperature sensitivity, better absorption than m-si, high efficiency; Restrictions : Extremely expensive [ 18 ].

The first generation concerns p-n junction-based photovoltaic cells, which are mainly represented by mono- or polycrystalline wafer-based silicon photovoltaic cells. Monocrystalline silicon solar cells involve growing Si blocks from small monocrystalline silicon seeds and then cutting them to form monocrystalline silicon wafers, which are fabricated using the Czochralski process ( Figure 4 a). Monocrystalline material is widely used due to its high efficiency compared to multicrystalline material. Key technological challenges associated with monocrystalline silicon include stringent requirements for material purity, high material consumption during cell production, cell manufacturing processes, and limited module sizes composed of these cells [ 19 ].

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A picture showing ( a ) the Czochralski process for monocrystalline blocks and ( b ) the process of directional solidification for multicrystalline blocks [ 21 ].

Multicrystalline silicon blocks are produced through melting high-purity silicon and crystallizing it in a big crucible by directional solidification process ( Figure 4 b). There is no reference crystal orientation in this process, as in the Czochralski process, and therefore, silicon material with different orientations is produced. The most commonly used base material for solar cells are p-type Si substrates doped with boron. The n-type silicon substrates are also used for the fabrication of high-efficiency solar cells, but they present additional technical challenges, such as achieving uniform doping along the silicon block in comparison to p-type substrates [ 20 ].

In the production of crystalline solar cells, six or more steps need to be carried out sequentially. These typically include surface texturing, doping, diffusion, oxide removal, anti-reflective coating, metallization, and firing. At the end of the process, the cell efficiency and other parameters are measured (under standard test conditions). The efficiency of photovoltaic cells is determined by the material quality that is used in their manufacture [ 21 ].

The theoretical efficiency threshold for first-generation PV cells appears to have been estimated at 29.4%, and a sufficiently close value was reached as early as two decades ago. At the laboratory scale, reaching 25% efficiency was recorded as early as 1999, and since then, very minimal improvements in efficiency values have been achieved. Since the appearance of crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells, their efficiency has increased by 20.1%, from 6% when they were first discovered to the current record of 26.1% efficiency. There are factors that limit cell efficiency, such as volume defects. Breakthroughs in the production of these cells include the introduction of an aluminum back surface field (Al-BSF) to reduce the recombination rate on the back surface, or the development of Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell (PERC) technology to further reduce the recombination rate on the back surface [ 22 ].

2.1.1. Al-BSF Photovoltaic Cells

Silicon solar cells with distributed p-n junctions were invented as early as the 1950s, soon after the first semiconductor diodes. Originally, boron diffusion in arsenic-doped wafers was used to form p-n junctions, but now, the industry standard is phosphor diffusion in boron-doped wafers. After the transition in the 1960s from n-type wafers to p-type wafers, the implementation of an aluminum back-surface field (Al-BSF) by fusing the back contact to the substrate made it possible to reduce recombination on the back side ( Figure 5 ). This fairly simple contact screen printing design held a dominant position, with 70–90% of the market share for the past several decades [ 23 ].

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Silicon solar cell structure: Al-BSF [ 1 ].

Standard aluminum back surface field (Al-BSF) technology is one of the most widely used solar cell technologies due to its relatively simple manufacturing process. It is based on depositing Al entirely on the full rear-side (RS) in a screen-printing process and forming a p+ BSF, which helps repel electrons from the rear-side of the p-type substrate and improves the cell performance. The process flow of Al-BSF solar cell fabrication is shown in Figure 6 . Standard commercial solar cell design consists of a front side with a grid and a rear-side with full area contacts [ 24 ].

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Al-BSF solar cell manufacturing process [ 21 ].

2.1.2. PERC Photovoltaic Cells

The efficiency of the industrial Al-BSF cell, however, reached about 20% around 2013. It has therefore become attractive to replace the fully contacted Al-BSF cell with a PERC (Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell) structure with local back contacts to achieve enhanced electrical and optical properties ( Figure 7 ). The passivated emitter and rear contact (PERC) solar cell improves the Al-BSF architecture by the addition of a passivation layer on the rear side to improve passivation and internal reflection. Aluminum oxide has been found to be a suitable material for rear side passivation [ 25 ].

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Object name is materials-15-05542-g007.jpg

Silicon solar cell structure: PERC [ 1 ].

The capability of this cell structure was demonstrated as early as the 1980s, although it was limited to laboratory processing because of its high cost relative to the yield gain. Moving the PERC technology into mass industrial production in theory involved a comparatively small industry threshold, as only two steps needed to be added to the Al-BSF process, i.e., passivation of the back surface and precise calibration of local back contacts. Nevertheless, decades passed before a profitable PERC process could be developed. A number of reasons led to the implementation of PERC in low-cost, high-volume production, and the increase in productivity to levels ranging from 22% to 23.4% [ 26 ]:

  • Introduction of aluminum oxide back surface passivation by plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition (PECVD) and formation of local back surface field (BSF) by laser ablation of back passivation layer and Al alloy;
  • Introduction of a selective emitter process in low-cost manufacturing, a “back-etching” process, or through a laser doping process;
  • Reducing the width of front metallization fingers from about 100 μm to less than 30 μm in high-volume production while reducing contact resistance for lightly phosphorus-doped silicon;
  • Adding a low-cost hydrogenation step at the end of the cell formation process to passivate volume defects and inactivate boron–oxygen complexes responsible for light-induced degradation (LID); and
  • Reappearance of monocrystalline silicon wafers as a result of cost reduction in silicon ingot production by the Czochralski method and the introduction of diamond wire cutting [ 27 ].

2.1.3. SHJ-Type Photovoltaic Cells

In parallel with PERC cells, other high-performance cell designs such as interdigitated back contact (IBC) solar cells and heterojunction solar cells (SHJ) have been introduced to mass production. Silicon heterojunction solar cells (SHJ), otherwise referred to as HIT cells, use passivating contacts based on a stack of layers of intrinsic and doped amorphous silicon ( Figure 8 ). Among the major technological challenges associated with this promising cell structure is that once the amorphous silicon layer is deposited, processes above 200 °C cannot be used. This rules out the well-known burned-in screen-printed metal contacts, and thus demands alternative methods using low-temperature pastes or galvanic contacts [ 28 ].

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Silicon solar cell structures: heterojunction (SHJ) in rear junction configuration [ 1 ].

There are currently intensive efforts to develop high-capacity production lines that could be competitive with present production standard lines. For SHJ technology to become widespread, there will be a need to overcome the challenges of increased cost of cell manufacturing tools, reducing the use of silver or replacing it with copper by developing Cu electroplating technology, as well as reducing the use of indium in the transparent conductive oxide (TCO) layer [ 29 ].

Moreover, as shown in Figure 9 , the HIT solar cell has a symmetric structure, which has two advantages. One is that the cell can be used in what is known as a bifacial module, which can generate more electricity than a regular module, and the other is that the structure is less stressed, which is important when processing thinner wafers [ 30 ].

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Structure of an HIT solar cell [ 30 ].

2.1.4. Photovoltaic Cells Based on Single III-V Junctions

GaAs-based single III-V junctions are reviewed at the end of this section. The III-V materials give the greatest photovoltaic conversion efficiency, achieving 29.1% with a GaAs single junction under single sunlight and 47.1% for a six-junction device under concentrated sunlight. These devices are also thinner (absorption layers typically being 2 to 5 µm thick) and thus could be fabricated as lightweight, flexible devices capable of being placed on curved surfaces. The III-V devices have high stability and have a history of high performance for challenging applications such as space [ 31 ].

The dominant III-V layer deposition process, metal–organic vapor phase epitaxy (MOVPE), holds the responsibility behind practically every performance record for III-V devices. Yet, historically, this process has been considered as a costly growth technique because of the high cost of precursors, the comparatively low usage of these precursors, and batch growth cycles that require many hours to be completed. Latest studies have significantly improved the growth rate and demonstrated much greater use of precursor chemicals using both MOVPE and hydrogen vapor phase epitaxy (HVPE) techniques, with HVPE also solving the precursor cost problem. Finishing currently includes a great number of labor-intensive, high-priced, and comparatively inefficient process steps, involving photolithography, manual application of spin coating, contact alignment, and metal evaporation and lifting [ 32 ].

2.2. Second Generation of Photovoltaic Cells

The thin film photovoltaic cells based on CdTe, gallium selenide, and copper (CIGS) or amorphous silicon have been designed to be a lower-cost replacement for crystalline silicon cells. They offer improved mechanical properties that are ideal for flexible applications, but this comes with the risk of reduced efficiency. Whereas the first generation of solar cells was an example of microelectronics, the evolution of thin films required new methods of growing and opened the sector up to other areas, including electrochemistry [ 33 ].

The second-generation photovoltaic cell comparison [ 18 ]:

  • Solar cells based on amorphous silicon (a-si)

Efficiency : 5 ÷ 12%; Band gap : ~1.7 eV; Life span : 15 years; Advantages : Less expensive, available in large quantities, non-toxic, high absorption coefficient; Restrictions : Lower efficiency, difficulty in selecting dopant materials, poor minority carrier lifetime.

  • Solar cells based on cadium telluride/cadium sulfide (CdTe/CdS)

Efficiency : 15 ÷ 16%; Band gap : ~1.45 eV; Life span : 20 years; Advantages : High absorption rate, less material required for production; Restrictions : Lower efficiency, Cd being extremely toxic, Te being limited, more temperature-sensitive.

  • Solar cells based on copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS)

Efficiency : 20%; Band gap : ~1.7 eV; Life span : 12 years; Advantages : Less material required for production; Restrictions : Very high-priced, not stable, more temperature-sensitive, highly unreliable [ 18 ].

2.2.1. CIGS Photovoltaic Cells

A key aspect that needed improvement was reducing the high dependence on semiconductor materials. This was the driving force that led to the emergence of the second generation of thin film photovoltaic cells, which include CIGS. In terms of efficiency, the record value for CIGS is 23.4%, which is comparable to the best silicon cell efficiencies. It should be noted, however, that the efficiency of the research cells does not directly translate to industrially achievable efficiency due to the nature of large-scale processing. Nevertheless, module efficiencies above 20% are already a reality. There has been a significant increase in the efficiency of CIGS cells in recent years and further increases are expected, for example, as a result of further research into alkaline treatment after deposition [ 34 ].

Group I-III-VI semiconducting chalcopyrite alloys (Ag,Cu)(In,Ga)(S,Se) 2 , commonly known as CIGS, are particularly favorable absorber materials for solar cells. They have direct band gaps ranging from ~1 to 2.6 eV, high absorption coefficients, and favorable internal defect parameters that allow high minority carrier lifetimes, and solar cells made from them are inherently stable in operation. The first recorded yield was 12% in a monocrystalline device in the mid-1970s. Subsequently, CIGS thin film absorbers, processing, and contacts were greatly improved, resulting in thin film cells with a small area and an efficiency of 23.4%. Current record module efficiencies are 17.6% on glass and 18.6% on flexible steel [ 35 ].

CIGS solar cells have been developed in a standard substrate configuration; however, deposition of CIGS at comparatively low temperatures on metal or polymer substrates to form flexible solar products is also possible. CIGS thin films are mainly being deposited by co-evaporation/devaporation or sputtering, and to a minor extent by electrochemical deposition as well as ion beam-assisted deposition. Since these are quaternary compounds, it is critical to control the stoichiometry of the thin film during fabrication. Work is also underway to produce fully or partially solution-deposited CIGS solar cells, and some predict that they could be the ultimate path to ultra-thin, coiled, and flexible PV modules [ 36 ].

The steps to improve the efficiency of CIGS cells may be described in the following way: (1) evaporation of CIS compound; (2) reactive elemental bilayer deposition; (3) selenization of sputtered metal precursors; (4) chemical bath deposition of CdS with ZnO:Al as emitter; (5) gallium alloying; (6) sodium alkali incorporation; (7) three-step co-deposition; (8) post-deposition treatment involving heavy alkali ion exchange; and (9) sulfurization after selenization (SAS). Progress is far from linear, with the complete potential for the optimization of the complex interactions between those techniques, along with others under development (e.g., silver alloys), yet to be achieved. A large number of scientists who specialize in CIGS think that efficiencies of 25% can be reached [ 37 ].

CIGS is a versatile material that can be produced by many processes and used in a variety of forms. There are currently four main categories of depositing methods used to fabricate CIGS films: (1) metal precursor deposition followed by sulfo-selenization; (2) reactive co-deposition; (3) electrodeposition; and (4) solution processing. All recent world records and the greatest commercial successes have been achieved by two-step sulfo-selenization of metal precursors or reactive co-deposition. CIGS can be deposited on a variety of substrates, including glass, metal films, and polymers. Glass is suitable for making rigid modules, while metal and polymer films allow applications that require lighter or flexible modules. With the evolution of global energy markets toward an appreciation of greenhouse gas reduction and circular economy aspects, the comparatively benign environmental impact of CIGS (especially without CdS) in comparison to different photovoltaic technologies is becoming the next competitive advantage [ 38 ].

Photovoltaic cells based on CIGS technology are composed of a pile of thin films deposited on a glass substrate by magnetron sputtering: a bottom molybdenum (Mo) electrode, a CIGS absorbing layer, a CdS buffer layer, and a zinc-doped oxide (ZnO:Al) top electrode. The co-evaporation and CdS buffer layer deposit the CIGS active layer by means of a chemical bath in a regular procedure ( Figure 10 ) [ 38 ].

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Demonstration of the CIGS-based standard solar cell stack [ 38 ].

2.2.2. CdTe Photovoltaic Cells

Second-generation photovoltaic cells also include CdTe-based solar cells. An interesting property of CdTe is the reduction in cell size—due to its high spectral efficiency, the absorber thickness can be reduced to about 1 μm without much loss in efficiency, although further work is needed ( Figure 11 ). Super-thin cells are particularly attractive for flexible applications, particularly in building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) due to their lighter weight, and transparent photovoltaic panels with CdTe can be developed due to the choice of transparent coating. Their transparency varies from about 10% to 50%, with the disadvantage that an increase in transparency necessarily decreases efficiency. Still, the transparent panels could replace window panels in buildings, not only generating electricity that could be used to power itself, but also contributing to noise reduction and thermal insulation, since most panels are encased in double glass [ 39 ].

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Schematic of a CdTe solar cell [ 1 ].

The technology of CdTe solar cells has developed considerably with the passage of time. In the 1980s, the efficiency of certified cells reached 10%, and in the 1990s, the efficiency was above 15% with the use of a glass/SnO 2 /CdS/CdTe layer structure and annealing in a CdCl 2 environment, and subsequent Cu diffusion. By the 2000s, efficiency of the cells hit 16.7% using sputtered Cd 2 SnO 4 and Zn 2 SnO 4 as transparent conductive oxide (TCO) layers. Over the past decade, new cell efficiency records have reached 22.1%. CdTe technology is increasingly used in rooftop systems and building-integrated photovoltaics [ 40 ].

In 2001, NREL produced a cell with an efficiency of 16.5%, which remained the benchmark for about 10 years. The record efficiency has been improved several times in the past 2 years by First Solar and GE Global Research. Currently, CdTe thin films account for less than 10% of the global PV market, with capacity expected to increase. Most of the commercial CdTe cells are manufactured by First Solar, which has achieved record cell efficiencies of 22.1% and average commercial module efficiencies of 17.5–18% [ 41 ].

The history of research and development and production of CdTe-based PV cells begins several decades beyond the first studies conducted by Bell Labs (Murray Hill, NJ, USA) in the 1950s on Si crystalline cells. The leading companies have been working on the commercialization of the underlying technology: Matsushita (Kadoma, Osaka, Japan), BP Solar (Madrid, Spain), Solar Cells Inc.—predecessor to First Solar (Tempe, AZ, USA), Abound Solar (Loveland, CO, USA) and GE PrimeStar (Denver, CO, USA). The top manufacturer of thin film CdTe PV is currently First Solar Solar (Tempe, AZ, USA), having fabricated 25 GW of PV modules since 2002 [ 42 ].

A range of comparatively easy and inexpensive approaches have been used to produce solar cells with 10–16% efficiency. Examples of several promising cheap deposition techniques include (1) close-space sublimation, (2) spray deposition, (3) electrodeposition, (4) screen printing, and (5) sputtering [ 43 ].

Recently, a record efficiency of 16% was reported in a CdS (0.4 μm)/CdTe (3.5 μm) thin film solar cell in which CdS and CdTe layers are deposited using metal–organic CVD (MOCVD) and CSS deposition techniques, respectively. Most of the high-performance solar cells use a device configuration of the superstrate type, where CdTe is deposited on a window layer of CdS. Typically, the structure of the device is composed of glass/CdS/CdTe/Cu-C/Ag. Most of the time, post-deposition heat treatment of the CdTe layer in the presence of CdCl 2 is necessary to optimize device performance [ 44 ].

The recent increase in efficiency is due partly to almost maximum photocurrent by optimizing the optical properties of the cell, deleting parasitically absorbing CdS and introducing CdSe x Te 1−x with a lower band gap. CdSe x Te 1-x extends the bandwidth of the absorber from ~1.4 to 1.5 eV and increases the carrier lifetime, thus improving photocurrent collection with no proportional loss of photocurrent. The use of ZnTe in the rear contact also improves the contact ohmicity significantly, and thus the efficiency [ 45 ].

2.2.3. Kesterite Photovoltaic Cells

In recent years, kesterite thin film materials have attracted more interest than CdTe and CIGS chalcogenide materials. Cu 2 ZnSnS x Se 4−x (CZTSSe) thin film photovoltaic material is attracting worldwide attention for its exceptional efficiency and composition derived from the Earth. A lot of research is being conducted on material engineering or designing new architecture to achieve high-performance CZTSSe thin film solar cells. Until recently, the most advanced thin film CZTSSe solar cells have been limited to 11.1% power conversion efficiency (PCE), with these efficiency levels reached using the hydrazine suspension method. Further vacuum and non-vacuum deposition techniques also proved effective in producing CZTSSe solar cells that had a PCE above 8%. Yet still, even record equipment with a PCE of 11% is significantly below the physical limit, generally referred to as the Shockley–Queisser (SQ) limit, which is around 31% efficiency under the Earth’s conditions [ 46 ].

A hydrazine-based pure solution method is used to prepare CZTSSe layers, and a Cu-poor and Zn-rich stoichiometry is adopted in the starting solution (Cu/(Zn + Sn) = 0.8 and Zn/Sn = 1.1). Multiple layers of components are spin-coated onto Mo-coated soda-lime glass and annealed at temperatures above 500 °C. Regarding the fabrication of devices, CZTSSe layers are deposited on Mo-coated glass substrates, then 25 nm CdS is deposited in a standard chemical bath and sputtered with 10 nm ZnO/50 nm ITO. A 2 μm thick Ni/Al top metal contact and 110 nm MgF 2 should be deposited on top of the devices by electron beam evaporation. The area of the device should be determined by mechanical scribing [ 47 ].

2.2.4. Photovoltaic Cells Based on Amorphous Silicon

The last type of cells classified as second-generation are devices that use amorphous silicon. Amorphous silicon (a-Si) solar cells are by far the most common thin film technology, whose efficiency is between 5% and 7%, rising to 8–10% for double and triple junction structures. Some varieties of amorphous silicon (a-Si) are amorphous silicon carbide (a-SiC), amorphous germanium silicon (a-SiGe), microcrystalline silicon (μ-Si), and amorphous silicon nitride (a-SiN). Hydrogen is required to dope the material, leading to hydrogenated amorphous silicon (a-Si:H). The gas phase deposition technique is typically used to form a-Si photovoltaic cells with metal or gas as the substrate material [ 48 ].

A typical manufacturing process for a-Si:H cells is the roll-to-roll process. First, a cylindrical sheet, usually stainless steel, is rolled out to be used as a deposition surface. The sheet is washed, cut to the desired size, and coated with an insulating layer. Next, a-Si:H is applied to the reflector, after which a transparent conductive oxide (TCO) is deposited on the silicon layer. Finally, laser cuts are made to join the different layers and the module is closed [ 49 ].

Amorphous silicon is usually deposited by plasma-enhanced vapor phase deposition (PECVD) at comparatively low substrate temperatures of 150–300 °C. A 300 nm thick a-Si:H layer is capable of absorbing about 90% of photons above the passband in a single pass, allowing the fabrication of lighter and more flexible solar cells [ 2 ].

Figure 12 shows the step-by-step fabrication process of an a-Si-based photovoltaic cell. Photovoltaic cells based on thin films are cheaper, thinner, and more flexible compared to first generation photovoltaic cells. The thickness of the light absorbing layer, which was 200–300 µm in first-generation photovoltaic cells, is 10 µm in second-generation cells. Semiconductor materials ranging from “micromorphic and amorphous silicon” to quaternary or binary semiconductors such as “cadmium telluride (CdTe) and copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS)” are used in thin films of photovoltaic cells [ 50 ].

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Manufacturing process of a-Si-based solar PV cell [ 2 ].

2.3. Third Generation of Photovoltaic Cells

The third generation of solar cells (including tandem, perovskite, dye-sensitized, organic, and emerging concepts) represent a wide range of approaches, from inexpensive low-efficiency systems (dye-sensitized, organic solar cells) to expensive high-efficiency systems (III-V multi-junction cells) for applications that range from building integration to space applications. Third-generation photovoltaic cells are sometimes referred to as “emerging concepts” because of their poor market penetration, even though some of these have been studied for more than 25 years [ 51 ].

The latest trends in silicon photovoltaic cell development are methods involving the generation of additional levels of energy in the semiconductor’s band structure. The most advanced studies of manufacturing technology and efficiency improvements are now concentrated on third-generation solar cells.

One of the current methods to increase the efficiency of PV cells is the introduction of additional energy levels in the semiconductor’s band gap (IBSC and IPV cells) and the increasing use of ion implantation in the manufacturing process. Other innovative third-generation cells that are lesser-known commercial “emerging” technologies include [ 52 ]:

  • Organic materials (OSC) photovoltaic cells;
  • Perovskites (PSC) photovoltaic cells;
  • Dye-sensitized (DSSC) photovoltaic cells;
  • Quantum dots (QD) photovoltaic cells; and
  • Multi-junction photovoltaic cells [ 52 ].

Third-generation photovoltaic cell comparison [ 18 ]:

  • Solar cells based on dye-sensitized photovoltaic cells

Efficiency : 5 ÷ 20%; Advantages : Lower cost, low light and wider angle operation, lower internal temperature operation, robustness, and extended lifetime; Restrictions : Problems with temperature stability, poisonous and volatile substances.

  • Solar cells based on quantum dots

Efficiency : 11 ÷ 17%; Advantages : Low production cost, low energy consumption; Restrictions : High toxicity in nature, degradation.

  • Solar cells based on organic and polymeric photovoltaic cells

Efficiency : 9 ÷ 11%; Advantages : Low processing cost, lighter weight, flexibility, thermal stability; Restrictions : Low efficiency.

  • Solar cells based on perovskite

Efficiency : 21%; Advantages : Low-cost and simplified structure, light weight, flexibility, high efficiency, low manufacturing cost; Restrictions : Unstable.

  • Multi-junction solar cells

Efficiency : 36% and higher; Advantages : High performance; Restrictions : Complex, expensive [ 18 ].

2.3.1. Organic and Polymeric Materials Photovoltaic Cells (OSC)

Organic solar cells (OSCs) are beneficial in applications related to solar energy since they have the potential to be used in a variety of prospects on the basis of the unique benefits of organic semiconductors, including their ability to be processed in solution, light weight, low cost, flexibility, semi-transparency, and applicability to large-scale roll-to-roll processing. Solution-processed organic solar cells (OSCs) that absorb near-infrared (NIR) radiation have been studied worldwide for their potential to be donor:acceptor bulk heterojunction (BHJ) compounds. In addition, NIR-absorbing OSCs have attracted attention as high-end equipment in next-generation optoelectronic devices, such as translucent solar cells and NIR photodetectors, because of their potential for industrial applications. With the introduction of non-fullerene acceptors (NFAs) that absorb light in the NIR range, the value of OSC is increasing, while organic donor materials capable of absorbing light in the NIR range have not yet been actively studied compared to acceptor materials that absorb light in the NIR range [ 53 ].

The most advanced BHJ structure by combining organic donor and acceptor materials showed tremendous hope for low-cost and lightweight organic solar cells. Over the past decade, enormous progress was made, with power conversion efficiencies reaching more than 14% for a single-junction device and more than 17% for a tandem device through the design of new NIR photoactive materials with low bandwidth. Compared to wide-band organic photovoltaic materials, low-band donor and non-fullerene acceptor materials with wide-range solar coverage extended to the NIR region typically exhibit more tightly superimposed electronic orbitals, easier delocalization of π electrons, higher dielectric constant, stronger dipole moment, and lower exciton binding energy. These properties make low-bandwidth photovoltaic materials play an important role in high-performance organic solar cells, including single-junction and tandem devices [ 54 ].

A clever strategy in active layer design could be summed up as optimizing the weight ratio of donor to acceptor materials, using ultra-low band gap materials as a third component to improve NIR light utilization efficiency, and adjusting the thickness of the active layer to achieve a compromise between photon collection and charge accumulation. Much effort has gone into optimizing the translucent top electrode: well-balanced conductivity and transmittance in the visible light range, increased reflectance in the NIR or ultraviolet (UV) light range, and better compatibility with active layers. In terms of device engineering, photon crystal, anti-reflection coating, optical microcavity, and dielectric/metal/dielectric (DMD) structures have been placed to realize selective transmission and reflection for simultaneous improvement of power conversion efficiency and average transmission of translucent OSC visible light [ 55 ].

2.3.2. Dye-Sensitized Photovoltaic Cells (DSSC)

Conjugated polymers and organic semiconductors have been successful in flat panel displays and LEDs, so they are considered advanced materials in the current generation of photovoltaic cells. A schematic representation of dye-sensitized organic photovoltaic cells (DSSCs) is shown in Figure 13 . Polymer/organic photovoltaic cells can also be divided into dye-sensitized organic photovoltaic cells (DSSCs), photoelectrochemical photovoltaic cells, and plastic (polymer) and organic photovoltaic devices (OPVDs), differing in mechanism of operation [ 56 ].

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Schematic representation of a DSSCs [ 2 ].

Dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs) represent one of the best nanotechnology materials for energy harvesting in photovoltaic technologies. It is a hybrid organic–inorganic structure where a highly porous, nanocrystalline layer of titanium dioxide (TiO 2 ) is used as a conductor of electrons in contact with an electrolyte solution also containing organic dyes that absorb light near the interfaces. A charge transfer occurs at the interface, resulting in the transport of holes in the electrolyte. The power conversion efficiency has been shown to be about 11%, and commercialization of dye-sensitized photovoltaic modules is underway. A novel feature in DSSC solar cells is the photosensitization of nanosized TiO 2 coatings in combination with optically active dyes, which increases their efficiency to more than 10% [ 57 ].

DSSCs hold promise as photovoltaic devices because of their simple fabrication, low material costs, and their benefits in transparence, color capability, and mechanical flexibility. The main challenges in commercializing DSSCs are poor photoelectric conversion efficiency and cell stability. The highest attainable theoretical energy conversion efficiency was estimated at 32% for DSSCs; however, the highest efficiency reported to date is only 13%. Intensive work is underway to understand the parameters governing the DSSC to improve its efficiency. Numerous attempts have been made to optimize the redox pair and absorbance of the dye, modify a wide band gap semiconductor as a working electrode, and develop a counter electrode (CE). In addition to increasing the efficiency of DSSC, the cost of materials is another major issue that needs to be solved in future work [ 58 ].

2.3.3. Perovskite Photovoltaic Cells

Perovskite solar cells (PSCs) are a revolutionary new photovoltaic cell concept that relies on metal halide perovskites (MHPs), e.g., methylammonium iodide as well as formamidine lead iodide (MAPbI 3 or FAPbI 3 , respectively). MHPs integrate a number of features favored in photovoltaic absorbers, including a direct band gap with a high absorption coefficient, long carrier lifetime and diffusion length, low defect density, and ease of tuning the composition and band gap. In the year 2009, MHP was first described as a sensitizer in a dye cell based on liquid electrolyte conducting holes. In 2012, MHP demonstrating ~10% efficiency of PSCs based on a solid-state hole conductor sparked an explosion of PSC studies. In about a decade of research, the efficiency of a single PSC junction increased to a certified level of 25.2% [ 59 ].

The development of PSCs has been heavily influenced by the improvement of material quality through a broad range of synthetic methods designed under the guidance of a fundamental understanding of MHP growth mechanisms. Comprehension of the complex and correlated processes of perovskite growth (e.g., nucleation, grain growth, as well as microstructure evolution) has aided in the development of a broad range of high-efficiency growth modes (for example, single-step growth, sequential growth, dissolution process, vapor process, post-deposition processing, non-stoichiometric growth, additive-assisted growth, and fine-tuning of structure dimensions). The latest efforts were concentrated on interface engineering, focusing on reducing open-circuit voltage losses and improving stability, particularly by introducing a two-dimensional perovskite surface layer. With progress in synthetic control, the perovskite composition is becoming simpler, mainly toward FAPbI 3 . This will undoubtedly contribute to the simplification of scale deposition methods and a basic understanding of the properties of these cells [ 60 ].

2.3.4. Quantum Dots Photovoltaic Cells

Solar cells made from these materials are called quantum dots (QDs) and are also known as nanocrystalline solar cells. They are fabricated by epitaxial growth on a substrate crystal. Quantum dots are surrounded by high potential barriers in a three-dimensional shape, and the electrons and electron holes in a quantum dot become discrete energy because they are confined in a small space ( Figure 14 ). Consequently, the ground state energy of electrons and electron holes in a quantum dot depends on the size of the quantum dot [ 61 ].

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( a ) A scheme of a solar cell based on quantum dots, ( b ) solar cell band diagram [ 64 ].

Nanocrystalline cells have relatively high absorption coefficients. Four consecutive processes occur in a solar cell: (1) light absorption and exciton formation, (2) exciton diffusion, (3) charge separation, and (4) charge transport. Due to the poor mobility and short lifetime of excitons in conducting polymers, organic compounds are characterized by small exciton diffusion lengths (10–20 nm). In other words, excitons that form far from the electrode or carrier transport layer recombine and the conversion efficiency drops [ 62 ].

The development of thin film solar cells with metal halide perovskites has led to intensive attention to the corresponding nanocrystals (NCs) or quantum dots (QDs). Today, the record efficiency of QD solar cells was improved to 16.6% using mixed colloidal QDs with perovskites. The universality of these new nanomaterials regarding ease of fabrication and the ability to tune the band gap and control the surface chemistry allows a variety of possibilities for photovoltaics, such as single-junction, elastic, translucent, controlled cells with heterostructures and multi-junction tandem solar cells which would push the field even further. However, a narrower size distribution has the potential to enhance the performance of QD solar cells through more ways than one. Firstly, electron transport might be better in smaller QDs, as larger QDs function as a band tail or shallow trap that makes transport more difficult. Secondly, the open-circuit voltage (V OC ) of QD solar cells could be limited by the smallest band gap (largest size) QD near the contacts. Enhancing the homogeneity and uniformity of QD size would also improve PV performance by the minimization of such losses. Although controlled experiments such as these have not yet been reported, it is possible that more controlled synthesis might provide benefits to QD cells [ 63 ].

2.3.5. Multi-Junction Photovoltaic Cells

Multi-junction (MJ) solar cells consist of plural p-n junctions fabricated from various semiconductor materials, with each junction producing an electric current in response to light of a different wavelength, thereby improving the conversion of incident sunlight into electricity and the efficiency of the device. The concept to use various materials with different band gaps has been suggested to utilize the maximum possible number of photons and is known as a tandem solar cell. An entire cell could be fabricated from the same or different materials, giving a broad spectrum of possible designs [ 65 ].

Usually, the cells are integrated monolithically and connected in series through a tunnel junction, and current matching between cells is obtained through adjusting each cell’s band gap and thickness. The theoretical feasibility of using multiple band gaps was examined and was found to be 44% for two band gaps, 49% for three band gaps, 54% for four band gaps, and 66% for an infinite number of gaps. Figure 15 illustrates a scheme of an InGaP/(In)GaAs/Ge triple solar cell and presents crucial technologies to enhance efficiency of conversion [ 66 ].

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Schematic illustration of a triple-junction cell and approaches for improving efficiency of the cell [ 65 ].

Grid-matched InGaP/(In)GaAs/Ge triple solar cells have been widely used in space photovoltaics and have achieved the highest true efficiency of over 36%. Heavy radiation bombardment of various energetic particles in the space environment inevitably damages solar cells and causes the formation of additional non-radiative recombination centers, which reduces the diffusion length of minority carriers and leads to a reduction in solar cell efficiency. The sub-cells in multi-junction solar cells are connected in series; the sub-cell with the greatest radiation degradation degrades the efficiency of the multi-junction solar cell. To improve the radiation resistance of (In)GaAs sub-cells, measures such as reducing the dopant concentration, decreasing the thickness of the base region, etc., can be used [ 66 ].

2.3.6. Photovoltaic Cells with Additional Intermediate Band

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) estimates that multi-junction and IBSC photovoltaic cells have the highest efficiency under experimental conditions (47.1%). The main feature of these cells is precisely the additional intermediate band in the band gap of silicon. Currently, two types of these cells are specified in the world literature: IBSC (Intermediate Band Solar Cells) and IPV (Impurity Photovoltaic Effect) [ 67 ].

Impurity Photovoltaic Effect (IPV) is one of the solutions used to increase the infrared response of PV cells and thus increase the solar-to-electric energy conversion efficiency. The idea of the IPV effect is based on the introduction of deep radiation defects in the structure of the semiconductor crystal structure. These defects ensure a multi-step absorption mechanism for photons with energies below the band gap width. The addition of IPV dopants into silicon solar cell structure, under certain conditions, increases the spectral response, short circuit current density, and conversion efficiency [ 68 ].

A major direction of study with great potential for development is Intermediate Band Solar Cells (IBSCs). They represent a third-generation solar cell concept and involve not only silicon, but also other materials. The idea behind the intermediate band gap solar cell (IBSC) concept is to absorb photons with an energy corresponding to the sub-band width in the cell structure. These photons are absorbed by a semiconductor-like material that, in addition to the conduction and valence bands, has an intermediate band (IB) in the conventional semiconductor’s band gap ( Figure 16 ). In IBSCs, the silicon layers are implanted with very high doses of metal ions to create an additional energy level [ 69 ].

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Energy band diagram of an intermediate band solar cell (IBSC) [ 69 ].

Based on the research conducted on the effect of defects introduced into the silicon structure, a model was developed according to which introducing selected deep defects into the charge carrier capture region results in improved PV cell efficiency. Of particular interest are defects that facilitate the transport of majority carriers and defects that counteract the accumulation of minority carriers. This contributes significantly to reducing the recombination process at the charge carrier capture site. Finally, by introducing defects into the structure of the silicon underlying the solar cell, we combine effective surface passivation with simultaneous reduction in optical losses [ 70 ].

The introduction of intermediate bands in semiconductors, using ion implantation, can be executed using two methods: by introducing dopants of very high concentration into the semiconductor substrate, or by implanting the silicon layer with high-dose metal ions. The increasing use of ion implantation in the photovoltaic cell manufacturing process has the potential to reduce the cost of deployment and increase the cost-effectiveness of silicon cells by increasing their efficiency. The use of ion implantation technology provides increased precision of silicon layer doping and generation of additional levels of energy in the band gap, as well as shortening the individual stages of cell fabrication, which ultimately translates into improved quality and lower production costs [ 71 ].

Lately, the technique of ion implantation is gaining popularity in the solar industry, gradually displacing the diffusion technique that has been used for many years. As can be seen in Figure 17 , cell performance is expected to continue to improve as the technology evolves toward higher efficiencies. In addition to local and reference doping, the major benefits of this technology involve high precision control of the amount and distribution of dopant doses, which results in high uniformity, repeatability, and increased efficiency (above 19%), with a significantly narrower distribution of cell performance [ 72 ].

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Stabilized cell efficiency trend curves [ 72 ].

In the method of ion implantation, chosen ions with the required impurity are inserted into the semiconductor by accelerating the impurity ions to a high energy level and implanting the ions into the semiconductor. The energy given to the impurity ions defines the depth of ion implantation. Contrary to the diffusion technology (where the impurity ion dose is introduced only at the surface), in the ion implantation technique, a controllable dose of impurity ions can be placed deeply into the semiconductor [ 73 ].

2.4. Fourth Generation of Photovoltaic Cells

Fourth-generation photovoltaic cells are also known as hybrid inorganic cells because they combine the low cost and flexibility of polymer thin films, with the stability of organic nanostructures such as metal nanoparticles and metal oxides, carbon nanotubes, graphene, and their derivatives. These devices, often referred to as “nanophotovoltaics”, could become the promising future of photovoltaics [ 74 ].

Graphene-Based Photovoltaic Cells

By using thin polymer layers and metal nanoparticles, as well as various metal oxides, carbon nanotubes, graphene, and their derivatives, the fourth generation provides excellent affordability and flexibility. Particular emphasis was placed on graphene because it is considered a nanomaterial of the future. Due to their unique properties, such as high carrier mobility, low resistivity and transmittance, and 2D lattice packing, graphene-based materials are being considered for use in PV devices instead of existing conventional materials. However, to achieve adequate device performance, the key to its practical applications is the synthesis of graphene materials with appropriate structure and properties [ 75 ].

Since the properties of graphene are fundamentally related to its fabrication process, a judicious choice of methods is essential for targeted applications. In particular, highly conductive graphene is suitable for use in flexible photovoltaic devices, and its high compatibility with metal oxides, metallic compounds, and conductive polymers makes it suitable for use as a selective charge-taking element and electrode interlayer material [ 76 ].

In the past two decades, graphene has been combined with the concept of photovoltaic material and is showing a significant role as a transparent electrode, hole/electron transport material, and interfacial buffer layer in solar cell devices. We can distinguish several types of graphene-based solar cells, including organic bulk heterojunction (BHJ) cells, dye-sensitized cells, and perovskite cells. The energy conversion efficiency exceeded 20.3% for graphene-based perovskite solar cells and reached 10% for BHJ organic solar cells. In addition to its function of extracting and transporting charge to the electrodes, graphene plays another unique role—it protects the device from environmental degradation through its packed 2D lattice structure and ensures the long-term environmental stability of photovoltaic devices [ 77 ].

Semi-metallic graphene having a zero band gap creates Schottky junction solar cells with silicon semiconductors. Even though graphene was discovered for the first time in 2004, the first graphene–silicon solar cell was not characterized as an n-silicon cell until 2010. Figure 18 schematically shows a graphene–silicon solar cell with a Schottky junction. Graphene sheets (GS), cultured by chemical vapor deposition (CVD) on nickel films, were wet deposited on pre-patterned Si/SiO 2 substrates with an effective area of 0.1–0.5 cm 2 . The graphene sheet forms a coating on the exposed n-Si substrate, creating a Schottky junction. The graphene sheet was contacted using Au electrodes [ 78 ].

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Graphene–silicon Schottky junction solar cell. ( a ) Cross-sectional view, ( b ) schematic illustration of the device configuration [ 75 ].

Graphene synthesis uses mainly two methodologies, which are the bottom-up and top-down methods. In the top-down approach, graphite is the starting material, and the goal is to intercalate and exfoliate it into graphene sheets by solid, liquid, or electrochemical exfoliation. Another approach under this categorization is the exfoliation of graphite oxide into graphene oxide (GO), after which chemical or thermal reduction takes place. A bottom-up approach is to produce graphene from molecular precursors by chemical vapor deposition (CVD) or epitaxial growth. The structure, morphology, and attributes of the resulting graphene, including the layer numbers, level of defects, electrical and thermal conductivity, solubility, and hydrophilicity or hydrophobicity, are dependent on the manufacturing process [ 78 , 79 ].

Graphene can absorb 2.3% of incident white light even though it is only one atom thick. Incorporating graphene into a silicon solar cell is a promising platform since graphene has a strong interaction with light, fulfilling both the optical (high transmittance) and electrical (low layer resistance) requirements of a typical transparent conductive electrode. It is important to note that both the layer resistance and the transmittance of graphene change with the number of layers. As the layer resistance decreases as the number of graphene layers increases, the optical transparency decreases as well [ 80 ].

For PV technology, graphene offers a lot more because of its flexibility, environmental stability, low electrical resistivity, and photocatalytic features, while having to be carefully and deliberately designed for the targeted applications and specific requirements [ 78 , 80 ].

One problem for graphene application is the absence of a simpler, more reliable way to deposit a well-ordered monolayer with low-cost flakes on target substrates having various surface properties. The other problem is the adhesion of the deposited graphene thin film, a subject that has not yet been studied properly. Large-area continuous graphene layers with high optical transparency and electrical conductivity may be fabricated by CVD. As an anode in organic photovoltaic devices, graphene holds great promise as a replacement for indium tin oxide (ITO) because of its inherently low-cost manufacturing process and excellent conductivity and transparency properties [ 81 ].

Graphene’s major disadvantage is its poor hydrophilicity, which negatively affects the design of devices processed in solution, but that fact may be overcome through modifying the surface by non-covalent chemical functionalization. Given graphene’s mechanical strength and flexibility, as well as its excellent conductivity properties, it can be anticipated that new applications in plastic electronics and optoelectronics will soon emerge involving this new class of CVD graphene materials. The discovery paves the way for low-cost graphene layers to replace ITO in photovoltaic and electroluminescent devices [ 82 ].

3. Prospects and Research Directions

Since the beginning of photovoltaic cells, crystalline silicon-based photovoltaic technology has played a dominant role in the market, with crystalline PV modules accounting for about 90% of the market share in 2020. In recent years, there has been a rapid development of thin film solar cells (such as cadmium telluride (CdTe) and indium–gallium selenium compounds (CIGS) cells) and new solar cells (such as dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs), perovskite solar cells (PSCs), quantum dot solar cells (QDSCs), etc.) [ 83 ].

The growing interest in BIPV systems has contributed to the overall development of photovoltaic technology, which has led to lower costs, increasing the feasibility of investment. Most of the standard second-generation technologies show efficiencies of 20–25%, and while they are expensive, the cost of silicon cells has come down and it is the improvement of silicon technologies that is now one of the key research directions [ 84 ].

Graphene and its derivatives are a promising area of research as they are in the early stages of research and development. The goal of using carbon nanostructures is to produce energy-efficient products that combine transport, active, and electrode layers. Many researchers in contemporary graphene research are now focusing on new graphene derivatives and their novel applications in manufacturing devices [ 85 ].

Nevertheless, the technologies used for third- and fourth-generation cells are still in the prototyping stage. Production-scale prototypes have also been built and have been successful (10–17% efficiency). In contrast, third-generation multi-junction cells are already commercially available and have achieved exceptional conversion factors (from 40% to over 50%) that place this alternative as the best [ 85 ]. Considering the market trends of increasing use of intermediate energy levels in PV cell production, it makes perfect sense to conduct research in this direction, which is exactly what our research team is doing.

The practical realization of the idea of energy-efficient IBSC-type silicon solar cells with intermediate energy levels in the band gap of the semiconductor, produced by ion implantation, needs more studies directed at the search for the optimal implantation parameters, which is the energy, type, and dose of ions, adjusted to the substrate material properties, particularly the level and type of dopant [ 86 ].

It appears that implantation can also lead to a reduction in the optical losses present in the cell. Impurities and defects introduced into the silicon crystal lattice under the right conditions can create additional intermediate band gaps, which realistically contributes to the reduction in the energy gap width. As a result, some photons with energies lower than the band gap value cause the formation of additional electron–hole pairs. The existence of this additional energy band contributes to the increase in the value of the photoelectric current, which results from the absorption of photons not previously involved in the photovoltaic conversion process. The range of absorbed light radiation increases toward the infrared, and after absorbing a photon from this range, the electron goes first to the intermediate band and then to the conduction band [ 87 ].

Our long-standing studies on changing the electrical parameters of silicon through the use of neon ion implantation have resulted in the development of the authorial methodology for the generation and identification of additional levels of energy in the silicon band structure, improving the efficiency of photovoltaic cells made based on it [ 88 ].

The research has been directed at determining the effect of the degree and type of silicon defect in terms of the possibility of producing intermediate energy levels in the semiconductor’s band gap, thereby increasing the efficiency of solar cells by enabling a multi-step transition of electrons from the valence band to the intermediate band and then to the conduction band.

The object of our research is a method of producing intermediate energy levels in the band gap of n- and p-type silicon, with a specific resistivity ρ ranging from 0.25 Ω·cm to 10 Ω·cm, by generating deep radiation defects in the crystal structure of the semiconductor by implantation of Ne + neon ions. The research material is doped with elements such as boron, phosphorus, and antimony.

Neon ions were chosen because the ions primarily produce point defects, the deliberate introduction of which into the crystalline lattice of silicon in the process of implantation makes it possible to alter its fundamental electrical parameters, including energy gap width and resistivity. The parameters significantly affect internal losses in photovoltaic cells [ 89 ]. Experimental studies were conducted to provide details for determination of the optimal dose of implanted neon ions because of their ability to generate intermediate energy levels in the semiconductor band gap.

The Results of the Author’s Research

The silicon samples were implanted with neon ions of energy E = 100 keV and different doses D using a UNIMAS 79 ion implanter and then isochronically annealed at 598 K for 15 min in a resistance furnace. The electrical parameters of the silicon samples were tested using a Discovery DY600C climate chamber using the proprietary PV Cells Meter computer program and the Winkratos software. A GW Instek LCR-8110G Series LCR meter was used to measure capacitance and conductance values, while sample temperature values were measured using Fluke 289 and Lutron TM-917 multimeters ( Figure 19 ).

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Silicon samples laboratory stand. ( a ) Schematic diagram of the laboratory stand: 1—solar cell, 2—supporting construction, 3—temperature sensor, 4—pyranometer, 5—light source, V1—Fluke 289, V2—The LCR-8110G Series LCR meter, RC—shunt resistor, RL—adjustable load. ( b ) Special measuring holders inside the climate chamber to hold silicon samples. ( c ) Discovery DY600C climate chamber [ 90 ].

The resulting capacitance and conductance measurements allowed us to determine the position values of the additional energy levels in the band gap. Two methods were used for this purpose. The first is the Thermal Admittance Spectroscopy (TAS) method, by which it was possible to determine the e t ( T p ) rate that determines the thermal emission, followed by the Arrhenius curves. By using the Arrhenius equation, it was possible to determine the activation energies of the deep energy levels by approximating the experimental data with a linear function [ 86 ]. An example of the results obtained by the TAS method is shown in Figure 20 a.

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The Arrhenius law approximation ranges for silicon implanted with neon Ne + ions of energy E = 100 keV ( a ) P-type silicon doped with boron, ρ = 0.4 Ω·cm, D = 2.2 × 10 14 cm −2 , Δ E = 0.46 eV. ( b ) N-type silicon doped with phosphorus, ρ = 10 Ω·cm, D = 4.0 × 10 14 cm −2 , Δ E = 0.23 eV [ 86 , 87 ].

Another method of determining the activation energy is the approximation of selected parts of the course C p = f(1000/ T p ) with the function of the equation ln(y) = Ax + B, where C p is the unit capacitance of the tested sample, and T p is the temperature of the sample during the measurements performed at the frequency of the measuring signal f = 100 kHz. This in turn allowed the calculation of the conduction activation energy Δ E , which determines the depth of the additional intermediate energy level [ 87 ]. An example of the results obtained by the Arrhenius curve approximation method is shown in Figure 20 b.

On the basis of the conducted research, it was possible to identify radiation defects that create additional energy levels in the silicon band gap, with corresponding activation energies, where the results are shown in Table 1 . Our research proved that the implantation of Ne+ ions results in generating radiation defects in the crystal lattice of silicon as a photovoltaic cell base material and enables the generation of intermediate levels of energy in the band gap, improving the efficiency of photovoltaic cells made on its basis.

Determination of intermediate energy levels for boron and phosphorus doped silicon samples implanted with Ne + ions and energy E = 100 keV, isochronically annealed at 598 K [ 86 , 87 ].

SampleLabelResistivityDoseActivation Energy

Si+B = 0.4 Ω·cm = 4.0 × 10 cm Δ = 0.34 eV

Si+B = 0.4 Ω·cm = 2.2 × 10 cm Δ = 0.46 eV

Si+B = 0.4 Ω·cm = 4.0 × 10 cm Δ = 0.32 eV

Si+P = 10 Ω·cm = 4.0 × 10 cm Δ = 0.19 eV

Si+P = 10 Ω·cm = 4.0 × 10 cm Δ = 0.23 eV

4. Conclusions

Solar energy is one of the most demanding renewable sources of electricity. Electricity production using photovoltaic technology not only helps meet the growing demand for energy, but also contributes to mitigating global climate change by reducing dependence on fossil fuels. The level of competitiveness of innovative next-generation solar cells is increasing due to the efforts of researchers and scientists related to the development of new materials, particularly nanomaterials and nanotechnology.

It is noted that the solar cell market is dominated by monocrystalline silicon cells due to their high efficiency. About two decades ago, the efficiency of crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells reached the 25% threshold at the laboratory scale. Despite technological advances since then, peak efficiency has now increased very slightly to 26.6%. As the efficiency of crystalline silicon technology approaches the saturation curve, researchers around the world are exploring alternative materials and manufacturing processes to further increase this efficiency. Polycrystalline and amorphous thin film silicon cells are seen as a serious competitor to monocrystalline silicon cells. However, their disadvantage is their disordered nature which results in low efficiency.

In this paper is a comprehensive overview of various PV technologies that are currently available or will be available in the near future on a commercial scale. A comparative analysis in terms of efficiency and the technological processes used is presented. Over the past few decades, many new materials have emerged that provide an efficient source of power generation to meet future demands while being cost-effective. This paper is a comprehensive study covering the generations of photovoltaic cells and the properties that characterize these cells. Photovoltaic cell materials of different generations have been compared based on their fabrication methods, properties, and photoelectric conversion efficiency.

First-generation solar cells are conventional and based on silicon wafers. The second generation of solar cells involves thin film technologies. The third generation of solar cells includes new technologies, including solar cells made of organic materials, cells made of perovskites, dye-sensitized cells, quantum dot cells, or multi-junction cells. With advances in technology, the drawbacks of previous generations have been eliminated in fourth-generation graphene-based solar cells. The popularity of photovoltaics depends on three aspects—cost, raw material availability, and efficiency. Third-generation solar cells are the latest and most promising technology in photovoltaics. Research on these is still in progress. This review pays special attention to the new generation of solar cells: multi-junction cells and photovoltaic cells with an additional intermediate band.

Recent advances in multi-junction solar cells based on n-type silicon and functional nanomaterials such as graphene offer a promising alternative to low-cost, high-efficiency cells. Currently, multi-junction cells, which benefit from advances enabled by nanotechnology, are breaking efficiency records. They are still quite expensive and represent a complex system, but there are simpler alternatives that may eventually provide a path to the competitiveness of the highest efficiency devices. Another significant advance is being made in the generation of additional energy levels in the band structure of silicon. In both cases, more research evidence, policies, and technology are needed to make them accessible. Therefore, it remains crucial to develop silicon-based technologies. The use of these new solar cell architectures would provide a new direction toward achieving commercial goals. Multi-junction based solar cells and new photovoltaic cells with an additional intermediate energy level are expected to provide extremely high efficiency. The research in this case focuses on a low-cost manufacturing process. Therefore, commercialization of these cells requires further work and exploration.

Nanotechnology and newly developed multifunctional nanomaterials can help overcome current performance barriers and significantly improve solar energy generation and conversion through photovoltaic techniques. Many physical phenomena have been identified at the nanoscale that can improve solar energy generation and conversion. However, the challenges associated with these technologies continue to be an issue when they are incorporated into PV manufacturing. Thanks to initial successes in recent years, nanomaterials are one of the most promising energy technologies of the future and are expected to significantly reform the future energy market. Carbon nanoparticles and their allotropic forms, such as graphene, are expected to offer high efficiency compared to conventional silicon cells in the near future and thus contribute to new prospects for the solar energy market.

Funding Statement

This research was funded by the Lublin University of Technology, grant number FD-20/EE-2/708.

Author Contributions

P.W. proposed a study on photovoltaic cell generations and current research directions for their development and guided the work. J.P. conducted a literature review and wrote the paper. J.P. and P.W. described further prospects and research directions and outlined conclusions based on the collected literature. P.W. reviewed and edited the work. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.

Institutional Review Board Statement

Informed consent statement, data availability statement, conflicts of interest.

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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  • Open access
  • Published: 10 June 2024

Geometry, reactivity descriptors, light harvesting efficiency, molecular radii, diffusion coefficient, and oxidation potential of RE(I)(CO) 3 Cl(TPA-2, 2′-bipyridine) in DSSC application: DFT/TDDFT study

  • Dereje Fedasa Tegegn 1 ,
  • Habtamu Zewude Belachew 1 ,
  • Shuma Fayera Wirtu 1 &
  • Ayodeji Olalekan Salau 2 , 3  

BMC Chemistry volume  18 , Article number:  110 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

Metrics details

Dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs) are an excellent alternative solar cell technology that is cost-effective and environmentally friendly. The geometry, reactivity descriptors, light-harvesting efficiency, molecular radii, diffusion coefficient, and excited oxidation state potential of the proposed complex were investigated. The calculations in this study were performed using DFT/TDDFT method with B3LYP functional employed on the Gaussian 09 software package. The calculations were used the 6–311 +  + G(d, p) basis set for the C, H, N, O, Cl atoms and the LANL2DZ basis set for the Re atom, with the B3LYP functional.. The balance of hole and electron in this complex has increased the efficiency and lifetime of DSSCs for photovoltaic cell applications. The investigated compound shows that the addition of the TPA substituent marginally changes the geometric structures of the 2, 2′-bipyridine ligand in the T 1 state. As EDsubstituents were added to the compound, the energy gap widened and moved from E LUMO (− 2.904 eV) (substituted TPA) to E LUMO (− 3.122 eV) (unsubstituted). In the studying of solvent affects; when the polarity of the solvent decreases, red shifts appears in the lowest energy an absorption and emission band. Good light-harvesting efficiency, molecular radii, diffusion coefficient, excited state oxidation potential, emission quantum yield, and DSSC reorganization energy, the complex is well suited for use as an emitter in dye-sensitized solar cells. Among the investigated complexes mentioned in literature, the proposed complex was a suitable candidate for phosphorescent DSSC.

Peer Review reports


The core of dye-sensitized solar cells based on solar radiation is the concept of charge distribution at the point of interaction of two materials with different electron movement processes [ 1 ]. Unlike a standard semiconductor that performs both functions, the device constitutes a stage at which the transport of light absorption and charge carrier transport can be isolated [ 2 ]. As a result, DSSCs provide a more practical and financially viable alternative to current p–n junction solar systems. In addition to solid-state devices, dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs) are an excellent alternative solar cell technology with cost-effective and environmentally friendly properties [ 3 ]. In a conventional DSSC, light is trapped by a sensitizer (dye) grafted onto the surface of a thin TiO 2 semiconductor film. Charge separation at the sensitizer-TiO 2 interface is caused by the photoinduced movement of electrons from the dye to the conduction band (CB) of the semiconductor. The charge collectors serve to transport the created electron–hole pair to the external circuit. A redox pair structure (often a natural compound such as an iodide/triiodide pair) regenerates the colored particle while it is regenerated by electrons at the counter terminal.

Regardless, in order to work on DSSC exhibition, it is important to explore creative materials such as host materials [ 4 , 5 ]. Since the presence of metal complexes exhibits a strong SOC that significantly accelerates the single-to-triplet intercalation (ISC), we used a third series of d 6 -mediated metal complexes with suitable organic ligands. The creation of highly efficient optical compounds requires the use of organic ligands that allow various electronic transitions between unique energy levels associated with metal atoms [ 6 , 7 , 8 ]. The bidentate heteroaromatic \(\widehat{\text{NN}}\) ligand complexes with d 6 3rd row transition metal ions such as Re(I), Ru(II), and Os(II) exhibit remarkable photophysical properties. Rhenium-containing complexes with 2,2′-bipyridine typically exhibit robust, enduring iridescence. 2,2′-bipyridine is a bidentate ligand with strong interaction for the Re(I). It is easy to change it by adding different groups of substituents at different places. To change the energy level of the 2, 2′-bipyridine ligand and to construct highly efficient DSSCs, it is advantageous to use electron-donating groups such as the TPA substituent [ 9 , 10 ]. The low luminescence efficiency and intrinsic quantum efficiency, on the other hand, are produced by unequal charge carrier for electrons and openings in the discharge layer of the DSSC system. Because these unsubstituted compounds have good electron transfer abilities but poor hole transfers properties [ 11 ]. The authors attempted to solve the problem of low light harvesting efficiency, intrinsic quantum efficiency, and luminescence performance of unsubstituted complexes inside the DSSC gadget by means of a theoretical treatment of the electronic structure design and photophysical characteristics of TPA-substituted of proposed complex.

Proposed computational methods

The geometries of the singlet ground state (S 0 ) and the lowest-lying excited triplet state (T 1 ) of the investigated compound were optimized in the gas phase using the DFT technique [ 12 ]. In addition to the 6–311 +  + G(d, p) basis set for C, H, N, O and Cl atoms, the B3LYP exchange correlation functional [ 13 ] can also accurately evaluate the LANL2DZ basis set with double ζ quality for the Re atom. LANL2DZ for Re and 6–311 +  + G(d, p) for the premise set of different molecules are also remembered for a complementary contribution within the Gaussian arrangement of the calculation [ 14 ]. Vibration frequency was conducted to ensure that the improved structures were undoubtedly stable structures. Accordingly, they are the smallest points on the potential energy surface with no imaginary frequency for any design. Using the optimal structures, the energy level and contour plot of the HOMO and LUMO of the studied complex were obtained.

Charged state calculations were investigated using the TDDFT approach with respect to a simplified construction of the investigated complex with indistinguishable functional and basis sets [ 15 , 16 ]. The absorption and emission spectra of the complex were estimated using the TDDFT method on the optimized S 0 and T 1 structures. GAMESS software was used to model the absorption spectra of the studied compound to obtain the best spectra. PCM is used in the TDDFT calculation to account for the impact of the solute around the particle. Electron density plots for FMO were generated using Gaussian software. The involvement of positive and negative ions in the production of “electron holes” is key to their use as DSSC materials. Subsequently, the + ve and −ve energy states of the unbiased atom were compared to calculate ionization potentials (IPs), electron affinities (EAs) and reorganization energies. Descriptors of complex reactivity, light harvesting efficiency, molecular radii, diffusion coefficient and excited oxidation potential were calculated using HOMO and LUMO energies. All calculations were performed using the software application Gaussian 09 [ 17 ].

Results and discussion

Stable geometries of complex.

The explored complex chemical structure and optimized ground state geometry were demonstrated (Fig.  1 ). Table 1 accumulates exploratory qualities for complex in view of crystallographic information from the previous reported [ 18 ], as well as the examined complex's chosen bond lengths and bond angles in the optimal ground state (S 0 ) and lowest lying triplet state (T 1 ). The geometry is formed by the substituted TPA on the bidentate ligand, CO, and Cl atom around the Re(I) atom. The constancy of the complex's ideal geometries was verified using frequency analyses that reveal that there is no imaginary frequency for any configuration. Figure  1 shows that this complexes via TPA have a similar face octahedral coordination with the bidentate ligand, CO, and Cl around the Re atom. Complexes display normal Re(I) tricarbonyl diamine complex properties in terms of bond lengths and bond angles, as shown in Table  1 .

figure 1

Complex chemical structure ( A ) and optimized geometry ( B )

Calculated the experimental values obtained from the crystallographic data published in the literature [ 18 ] are in good agreement. It provides strong evidence for the correctness of the theoretical approach. Small differences are observed due to the effects that the theoretical calculations do not take into account in the tightly closed and chemical environment. The study found that EWG caused a red shift in the lowest energy absorption and emission bands, while EDG caused a blue shift, finding can serve as a benchmark to compare the effects of the TPA ligand in this complex [ 19 ]. Although the close-packed lattice gives practical results, the theoretical calculations are valid for the gas phase. Substitution of TPA on the 2,2′-bipyridine ligand results in a small modification of the bond, as seen in Table  1 . For the investigated compounds, the typical angle of approximately 90° between the three CO ligands in fac-Re(CO) 3+ is unity.

In each complex, the axial Re-C bond distance is shorter than the equatorial Re-C bond distance. This is due to the axial CO opposite the Cl atom having a distinct ligand to metal back bonding capacity. The complex's estimated geometrical parameters for the T 1 included in Table  1 and reveals geometric structures of the 2, 2′-bipyridine ligand in the T 1 state are minimally affected by the addition of a TPA substituent. However, there are significant changes in the bond lengths and bond angles of the complex in the T 1 and S 0 states. The bond lengths of Re–N and Re–Cl are particularly shortened, whereas those of Re-C are lengthened. While Re(I) interactions with three CO ligands are weaker in the T 1 state, those with the 2, 2′-bipyridine ligand are greater. As a result, the 2, 2′-bipyridine ligand has a stronger effect on the FMOs of these complexes in the T 1 state. The varied strengths of Re(I) and TPA-2,2′-bipyridine ligands or CO ligands will result in different electron transition characteristics.

Experimental results were taken from the literature [ 18 ]. The calculated optimal parameters suggest an octahedral coordination.

Molecular orbital properties and global reactivity descriptors

The frontal molecular orbital (FMO) properties of DSSC materials have a substantial effect on their energized states and electronic changes. FMOs, especially HOMOs and LUMOs, are related to the optical properties of the complexes. Contour plots of the HOMO (H) and LUMO (L) energy levels in the complex, as well as the principal FMO energy levels, are shown in Fig.  2 . As can be seen, the studied complex's HOMOs are predominantly made up of the d(Re), p(Cl), and orbitals of CO ligands, while the LUMOs are primarily made up of the TPA-2, 2′-bipyridine ligand’s π* anti-bonding orbitals. The addition of TPA substituent groups to the 2, 2′-bipyridine ligand had no effect on the FMO compositions. When EDG groups (TPA) are introduced, the HOMOs rarely change (Fig.  2 ). When different substituent bunches is joined to the 2, 2′-bipyridine ligand, the energy levels LUMOs vary significantly. The introduction of EDGs (-TPA) increases E LUMO . As electron-donor substituent groups are added, the energy gap of the molecule widens, moving from E LUMO (− 2.904 eV) (substituted by TPA) to E LUMO (− 3.122 eV) (unsubstituted). Contour plot of HOMO and LUMO of studied complexes was shown in Fig.  2 .

figure 2

Contour plot of HOMO ( A ) and LUMO ( B ) of studied complexes

Furthermore, the quantum chemical parameters HOMO and LUMO are essential for predicting the reactivity of the substance under investigation. Descriptors of chemical reactivity that are important are studied using them, such as ionization potentials (IP), electron affinity (EA), electronegativity (EN), chemical hardness (η), chemical potential (μ), chemical softness (S), electrophilicity index (ω), electron accepting capability (ω + ), electron donating capability (ω − ), Nucleophilicity index (N), additional electronic charge (N max ), and optical softness (σ o ) are some of the terms used to describe the properties of a material [ 20 , 21 ]. The energy of the HOMOs and LUMOs with all global reactivity descriptors of the studied complex was determined using the DFT technique at the B3LYP/6–311G +  + (d, p) basis set and is shown in Table  2 .

According to the data, Egap is 2.756 eV, the smallest energy gap among the complexes analyzed in the literature. As a result, a soft molecule has low gap energy, is more polarizable, has high chemical reactivity, and has a low level of kinetic stability. The attachment of TPA to the studied complex has given it a high IP (5.661 eV) and a high electron donating capability (ω − ), which is 8.965 eV, as indicated in Table  2 .

Absorption spectra

The complex's absorption characteristics have been established using the idealized ground state geometry. To identify the absorption spectra of the complex under study, PCM in CH 2 Cl 2 medium was used in conjunction with the theoretical methods. Table 3 gathers experimental values for complex transition behavior, relevant energies/wavelengths, oscillator strength, dominating orbital excitations with configuration interaction (CI) coefficients, and their assignments from the literature [ 18 ]. Figure  3 depicts the corresponding simulated UV–Visible absorption spectra of the examined chemical using the GAMESS software. UV–Visible absorption spectrum of the studied complex is shown below (Fig.  3 ). Combining MLCT, XLCT, and LLCT, the H-3 to L and H to L + 2 excitations are assigned to the studied complex’s absorption band. The compounds under examination have a reduced energy absorption band of 400 nm. When EDG TPA substituents are added to the 2, 2′-bipyridine ligand (shorter wavelength), the absorption band moves to the blue.

figure 3

The simulated UV–Vis absorption spectra of the investigated compound

Phosphorescence spectra

To produce the emission spectra of the complex under study, the TDDFT/B3LYP techniques with PCM in CH 2 Cl 2 medium were applied, beginning with the optimized T 1 structures. Table 4 shows the energy/wavelength relationships, dominating transitions with higher CI coefficients, and their assignments. In Phosphorescence, the addition of the -TPA group to complex may result in a corresponding blue shift. Furthermore, the investigated compound emits light in the visible spectrum. As a result, when a stronger EDG was added to the R positions of the 2, 2′-bipyridine ligand, the spectrum of the lowest energy emission band was blue-shifted. The contour plots of excited state HOMO and LUMO of the complex are depicted (Fig.  4 ).

figure 4

The contour plots of excited state HOMO ( A ) and LUMO ( B ) of complex

The complex’s chosen photovoltaic properties

  • Light harvesting efficiency

The links between the incoming photon conversion efficiency (IPCE), charge collecting efficiency (c), electron injection efficiency (Φ inj ), and light harvesting efficiency (LHE) have been demonstrated using Eqs. ( 1 ) and ( 2 ) [ 22 ].

where f is the oscillator strength that corresponds to the maximum absorption wavelength (λ max ) in the visible or near-IR range. The absorption wavelengths were plotted against the absorptivity coefficient and oscillator strength ( f ) data to validate the transition strengths. In contrast to epsilon ('molar absorptivity,' which is determined by the molecular weight of the molecule, oscillator strengths provide a more accurate representation of the transition probability for each particular molecule. Electronic transitions in a molecule between ground states and first excited singlet states are expected to be strong because f values represent the degree of the transition strength and likelihood [ 23 ].

Excited state oxidation potential of the complex

E ox Complex , where E is the absorption energy corresponding to the complex's maximum absorption in the visible or near-IR region, and it provides the ground state oxidation potential of the complex. A considerable percentage of the energy released by the excited oxidation state of complex (E ox complex *) [ 22 ] into the TiO 2 Conduction band is thought to come from a diffusion process [ 24 ].

The diffusion coefficient D⁠π (of the π system)

As a result, the diffusion coefficient can be calculated using the Stokes' equation as shown in Eq. ( 4 ). r complex is the molecular radius of the dye (Eq.  5 ), K B is the Boltzmann constant in J/K, T is the lowest temperature in Kelvin (specified at 298.15 K), and is the viscosity of the medium [ 22 ].

Complex molecular radii

Suppan's equation assumes that molecular radii (r dye ) are equal to the dyes’ respective Onsager cavity radii, a, which are calculated from the molecular volume according to Eq. ( 5 ).

where M is the molecular weight of the complex, ρ is the density of the gas (at STP), and N A is the Avogadro’s number. Generally, studied complex photophysicochemical and photovoltaic characteristics were depicted in Table  5 .

Solvent effect on absorption and emission spectra

The polarity of various solvents varies. Different solvents produce varied excitation energies due to their polarity [ 25 ]. The PCM technique is used to evaluate solvent effects as shown in Table  6 for the complex under consideration. For complex, red shifts have been detected with decreasing solvent polarity in the lowest energy absorption and emission bands, while blue shifts observed in rising solvent polarity. When compared to the experimental technique, changes in solvents are straightforward in theoretical calculations. This is one more benefit of theoretical computations.

Electronic affinity (EA), ionization potential (IP) and reorganization energy (λ)

They impact how well DSSCs perform. IP and EA are regularly used to evaluate the energy hindrance for the infusion of openings and electrons from the anode into producing materials [ 26 , 27 ]. Vertical and adiabatically stimulated excitations are referred to as EA (v) and EA (a), respectively (a). The electron transport revamping energy (electron), opening vehicle rearrangement energy (opening), and contrast between the electron and opening per complex were resolved involving the DFT procedure in this work and are displayed in Table  7 . Vertical and adiabatically stimulated excitations are referred to as EA (v) and EA (a), respectively (a). The electron transport redesign energy (electron), opening vehicle rearrangement energy (opening), and contrast between the electron and opening per complex were resolved involving the DFT procedure in this work and are shown in Table  7 . However, as demonstrated, the studied complex has a fairly small difference between electrons and holes when compared to an unsubstituted complex, which can improve charge transfer balance and further improve DSSC material efficiency. As a result, the examined chemical is better suitable for use as an emitter in DSSCs.

The emission quantum yield in CH 2 Cl 2 media

The conflict between radiative decay rate constant (K r ) and non-radiative decay rate constant (K nr ) might alter the emission quantum yield (Φ) [ 13 ].

where, τ em is the emission decay time. The large K r (Eq.  7 ) and tiny K nr (Eq.  8 ) are required by the preceding formula to improve the value of emission quantum yield (Φ) (Eq.  6 ). The K r and K nr can expressed as:

where α and β are constants, S 1 is the electric dipole moment of transition from S 0 to S 1 . The energy gap between S 1 and T 1 states is denoted by E S1-T1 , the energy of the lowest triplet excited states for phosphorescence is denoted by E T1 , and n, h, and \({\varepsilon }_{0}\) are the refractive index, plank's constant, and permittivity in a vacuum, respectively. As a result of the foregoing formulas, the variation of Φ can be determined qualitatively. According to the preceding equation, when E T1 increases, K r increases and K nr decreases. Table 8 summarizes the associated data. The table shows that complex has the highest E T1 (1.581 eV), which may raise the value of Φ. The SOC effects are mostly explained by the energy difference between the S 1 and T 1 states (E S1-T1 ) [ 28 , 29 ]. The S 1 and T 1 ISC play a significant role in the phosphorescent process [ 30 ]. As ΔE S1-T1 grows the ISC rate decreases exponentially. The minimum E S1-T1 will improve an ISC rate and transition moment, perhaps increasing Kr. Table 8 shows that the studied complex has the high E T1 (1.581 eV), the small value of ΔE S1-T1 (1.174 eV), and large μ S1 (6.3D) As a result, it may have a higher emission quantum yield than other complexes. Among the examined complexes, the developed complex may be a viable choice for phosphorescent materials.

In this study, the geometry, reactivity descriptors, light harvesting efficiency, molecular radii, diffusion coefficient, and excited oxidation potential of fac -[Re(I)(CO) 3 (Cl)(TPA-2, 2′-bipyridine)] were investigated using DFT and TDDFT. S 0 and T 1 state geometries, FMOs, reactivity descriptors, absorption and phosphorescence spectra, solvent effect, electronic affinity, ionization potential, reorganization energy, light harvesting efficiency, molecular radii, diffusion coefficient, excited oxidation potential, and emission quantum yield of the complex under investigation were specifically investigated. The addition of TPA groups to the 2, 2′-bipyridine ligand greatly modifies the electronic structures and photophysical properties such as absorption and emission spectra, charge infusion and move capacities, and emission quantum yield, according to the calculated results. The lowest-energy absorption and emission bands of this complex redden when the solvent polarity decreases, according to the solvent effect on absorption and emission spectra. Based on the results of EA, IP, and reorganization energy, we may also conclude that this complex can be used as an electron transporting material. The chosen photovoltaic properties of the complexes, such as light harvesting efficiency, molecular radii, diffusion coefficient, and excited oxidation potential, indicate the preferred complex in the use of solar cells. Furthermore, the investigated complex has the smallest electron-to-hole disparity of the complexes, which improves the device performance of DSSCs even further. The compound under investigation could have a higher quantum yield. As a result, complex is a preferable choice for usage as an emitter in DSSCs. Finally, theoretical study can afford suitable details for the intention and synthesis of novel, high-efficiency DSSC materials. Because of the TPA, a chemical that transmits holes, this combination has extraordinary light properties.

Availability of data and materials

The data sets used and analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request. We have presented all data in the form of Tables and Figures in the manuscript.


Density functional theory

Dye-sensitized solar cells

Electron affinity

Electron donating group


Electron withdrawing group

Frontier molecular orbitals

Highest occupied molecular orbital

Ionization potential

Los Alamos national laboratory 2 Double zeta

Ligand to ligand charge transfer

Lowest unoccupied molecular orbital

Molecular electrostatic potential

Metal to ligand charge transfer

Nucleophilicity index

Polarizable continuum model

Time-dependent density functional theory



Halide to ligand charge transfer

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Tegegn, D.F., Belachew, H.Z., Wirtu, S.F. et al. Geometry, reactivity descriptors, light harvesting efficiency, molecular radii, diffusion coefficient, and oxidation potential of RE(I)(CO) 3 Cl(TPA-2, 2′-bipyridine) in DSSC application: DFT/TDDFT study. BMC Chemistry 18 , 110 (2024).

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Taking a dip —

New recycling method makes solar cells even more environmentally friendly, all the major elements in a solar panel can be reclaimed using less energy..

John Timmer - Jun 4, 2024 9:02 pm UTC

Image of a solar cell, showing dark black silicon and silver-colored wiring.

For years, the arguments against renewable power focused on its high costs. But as the price of wind and solar plunged, the arguments shifted. Suddenly, concerns about the waste left behind when solar panels hit end-of-life became so common that researchers at the US's National Renewable Energy Lab felt compelled to publish a commentary in Nature Physics debunking them.

Part of the misinformation is pure nonsense. The primary ingredients of most panels are silicon, aluminum, and silver, none of which is a major environmental threat. Solar panels also have a useful lifespan of decades, and the vast majority of those in existence are less than 10 years old, so waste hasn't even become much of a problem yet. And, even once these panels age out, recycling techniques are available.

Perhaps the only realistic concern is that existing recycling technologies rely on nitric acid and can produce some toxic waste. But a group of researchers from Wuhan University have figured out an alternative means of recycling that avoids the production of toxic waste and is more energy-efficient as a bonus.

Etching away layers

As mentioned above, waste from solar panels really isn't a problem yet. The paper's authors describing the new recycling technique note that, at the end of 2020, 18 percent of the solar cells in use had been manufactured that same year, and the pace of manufacturing has accelerated dramatically since. And panels tend not to fail so much as slowly drop in efficiency to the point where installing a new panel makes economic sense.

That said, the number of cells ready for recycling will grow dramatically within a few decades, and there are expected to be 80 million tonnes of panels ready for recycling each year by 2050. So, methods for doing so have already been devised. Most of the value in the solar panels comes in the form of silver used for wiring and the high-purity silicon of the cells. But there's also an aluminum frame and backing, a glass cover with anti-reflective coating, and solder connecting some of the wiring.

Current techniques dissolve the silver in nitric acid and use other acids to handle a silicon nitride layer in the panel, as well as some of the minor materials, like solder. These techniques result in chemicals that are difficult to recycle or dispose of.

The new work, rather than focusing on completely dissolving the materials used in constructing the panel, relies on a brief chemical treatment that largely severs the connections among the individual layers. While this results in some chemical byproducts, most of the material ends up intact and in a relatively pure form.

The process starts with physically removing the aluminum frame and glass cover, both of which can be melted and reused for manufacturing. This leaves the cells, which the researchers disassemble using a molten mixture of sodium and potassium hydroxide, which undergoes chemical reactions with most of the components it comes in contact with. This acts as an etching process, reacting away the material right at the cell's surface.

The researchers tried various conditions, ranging from spraying on the NaOH/KOH mixture to soaking the cells in it and a variety of temperatures. They settled on a two-second dip in the etching mixture, followed by a short (one to two minutes) period at 200° C. Longer treatments and elevated temperatures tended to result in some of the layers of material reacting away completely; the shorter exposure allowed these layers to separate while remaining largely intact.

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This Solar Cell Shattered an Efficiency World Record. But It's the Whole Panel That Really Matters

Solar manufacturers are pushing the limits of solar efficiency. CNET explains what you need to pay attention to if you're shopping for residential solar panels.

A human hand touching a solar panel mounted on a home.

A major solar panel manufacturer says its latest cell technology can turn nearly a third of the solar energy that hits it into electricity. That would mean this cell is more efficient than the  best residential solar panel on the market .

But if you're shopping for solar panels for your home, you probably shouldn't be concerned about it.

JinkoSolar's perovskite tandem solar cell set a new efficiency record for its specific type of cell, the company announced last week. 

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The efficiency rating of 33.24% for an n-type TOPCon-based perovskite tandem cell seems miles ahead of the efficiency rating CNET reported on a few weeks ago when Maxeon announced its new most efficient solar panel , the Maxeon 7, recording just under 25%.   

Experts say, however, that the two technologies aren't the same and shouldn't be compared. "Test results on new cells cannot be compared to the real-world efficiency of a currently available commercial panel, especially when they use very different technologies," said Chuck Kutscher , lead author of Accelerating the US Clean Energy Transformation and contributing author to the 2020 Zero Carbon Action Plan by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. 

Kutscher, who also spent four decades as a renewable-energy researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory , or NREL, said "the Jinko efficiency rating is just for an individual tandem cell consisting of two different cell designs." The Maxeon 7's 24.9% efficiency rating, he said, is for the entire panel with over 100 monocrystalline silicon solar cells wired together. 

The Jinko tandem panel is made up of a perovskite layer, which lies on top of the monocrystalline silicon layer . It works by absorbing one part of the solar spectrum from the top layer while the monocrystalline silicon layer absorbs another part of the solar spectrum, said Kutscher.

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Considering Solar Panels?

 "Stacking two different cells that collect different portions of the solar wavelength spectrum is a long-recognized way to boost efficiency, but it comes at a higher cost, and so the tandem design of this Jinko cell makes it more expensive than a single cell design typical of residential panels," said Kutscher.

Perovskite cells like the one used in the Jinko Tandem Solar Cell don't have the proven experience in the field and haven't yet demonstrated the long-term durability of silicon cells, said Kutscher.

A close up view of a monocrystalline silicon solar panel

This is a close-up look at a high-performance solar cell made from a monocrystalline silicon wafer. The contact grid is made from busbars (large strip) and fingers (small strips). When light hits it, it releases electrons, which are converted into an electrical current. A grid of wires collects the electrons. This is what a residential rooftop solar panel looks like. 

The bottom line is, efficiency records for individual solar cells are broken all the time. Kutscher says it's the efficiency, durability and cost of an entire solar panel that matter for residential installations. "It's always encouraging to see new efficiency records set for different types of solar cells, but it can take a while for new cells to make it into successful commercial products, and they may never make that transition."

Jinko does make a few different residential solar panels that are available for rooftops now. All have decently high efficiency ratings just above 22%. CNET found the warranties to be mediocre, however. 

For more information of which solar panel is the best or which panel is the most efficient , CNET  ranks and scores them for you based on criteria such as efficiency, temperature coefficient, wattage and warranty. 

The Maxeon 7 , the current reigning most efficient residential solar panel , is expected to be available in the US in the third quarter of 2024, Maxeon said in a press release .  

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Green Synthesis of Zinc Oxide Nanoparticles Using Plant Extracts and Their Antimicrobial Activity

  • Published: 06 June 2024

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  • D. C. Bouttier-Figueroa 1 ,
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The synthesis of zinc oxide nanoparticles (ZnO NPs) through the use of plant extracts is a remarkably simple, cost-effective, efficient, and environmentally friendly approach. In recent years, there has been a surge in the exploration of eco-friendly methods for synthesizing ZnO NPs, with researchers addressing the potential of extracts derived from various plant components, including leaves, stems, roots, and fruits. This comprehensive review aims to encapsulate and delve into the extensive research surrounding the green synthesis of ZnO NPs, emphasizing their diverse antimicrobial applications while encompassing the latest advancements documented in the literature. Furthermore, this review meticulously examines the sizes and morphological characteristics of the synthesized nanoparticles, offering valuable insights into their structural properties. Finally, a thorough exploration of the potential interaction mechanisms between ZnO NPs and bacterial cell walls was conducted, elucidating how such interactions may induce cell death and highlighting the consequential antimicrobial activity exhibited by these nanoparticles.

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Green Fabrication, Characterization of Zinc Oxide Nanoparticles Using Plant Extract of Momordica charantia and Curcuma zedoaria and Their Antibacterial and Antioxidant Activities

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A Review on Green Synthesis of Zinc Oxide Nanoparticles Using Plant Extracts and Its Biomedical Applications

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Bioinspired synthesis and characterization of zinc oxide nanoparticles and assessment of their cytotoxicity and antimicrobial efficacy

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D. C. Bouttier-Figueroa acknowledges the postdoctoral position at the Universidad de Sonora.

D. C. Bouttier-Figueroa acknowledges the grant from CONAHCYT.

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