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1.  Enhancing Solar Cell Efficiencies through 1-D Nanostructures 
Nanoscale Research Letters  2008;4(1):1-10.
The current global energy problem can be attributed to insufficient fossil fuel supplies and excessive greenhouse gas emissions resulting from increasing fossil fuel consumption. The huge demand for clean energy potentially can be met by solar-to-electricity conversions. The large-scale use of solar energy is not occurring due to the high cost and inadequate efficiencies of existing solar cells. Nanostructured materials have offered new opportunities to design more efficient solar cells, particularly one-dimensional (1-D) nanomaterials for enhancing solar cell efficiencies. These 1-D nanostructures, including nanotubes, nanowires, and nanorods, offer significant opportunities to improve efficiencies of solar cells by facilitating photon absorption, electron transport, and electron collection; however, tremendous challenges must be conquered before the large-scale commercialization of such cells. This review specifically focuses on the use of 1-D nanostructures for enhancing solar cell efficiencies. Other nanostructured solar cells or solar cells based on bulk materials are not covered in this review. Major topics addressed include dye-sensitized solar cells, quantum-dot-sensitized solar cells, and p-n junction solar cells.
PMCID: PMC2893966
Solar cells; Nanowires; Nanotubes; Nanorods; Quantum dots; Hybrid nanostructures
2.  The design, fabrication, and photocatalytic utility of nanostructured semiconductors: focus on TiO2-based nanostructures 
Recent advances in basic fabrication techniques of TiO2-based nanomaterials such as nanoparticles, nanowires, nanoplatelets, and both physical- and solution-based techniques have been adopted by various research groups around the world. Our research focus has been mainly on various deposition parameters used for fabricating nanostructured materials, including TiO2-organic/inorganic nanocomposite materials. Technically, TiO2 shows relatively high reactivity under ultraviolet light, the energy of which exceeds the band gap of TiO2. The development of photocatalysts exhibiting high reactivity under visible light allows the main part of the solar spectrum to be used. Visible light-activated TiO2 could be prepared by doping or sensitizing. As far as doping of TiO2 is concerned, in obtaining tailored material with improved properties, metal and nonmetal doping has been performed in the context of improved photoactivity. Nonmetal doping seems to be more promising than metal doping. TiO2 represents an effective photocatalyst for water and air purification and for self-cleaning surfaces. Additionally, it can be used as an antibacterial agent because of its strong oxidation activity and superhydrophilicity. Therefore, applications of TiO2 in terms of photocatalytic activities are discussed here. The basic mechanisms of the photoactivities of TiO2 and nanostructures are considered alongside band structure engineering and surface modification in nanostructured TiO2 in the context of doping. The article reviews the basic structural, optical, and electrical properties of TiO2, followed by detailed fabrication techniques of 0-, 1-, and quasi-2-dimensional TiO2 nanomaterials. Applications and future directions of nanostructured TiO2 are considered in the context of various photoinduced phenomena such as hydrogen production, electricity generation via dye-sensitized solar cells, photokilling and self-cleaning effect, photo-oxidation of organic pollutant, wastewater management, and organic synthesis.
PMCID: PMC3781710  PMID: 24198485
TiO2 nanostructure; fabrication techniques; doping in TiO2; TiO2-assisted photoactivity; solar hydrogen; TiO2-based dye-sensitized solar cells; TiO2 self-cleaning; organic synthesis
3.  An integrated approach to realizing high-performance liquid-junction quantum dot sensitized solar cells 
Nature Communications  2013;4:2887.
Solution-processed semiconductor quantum dot solar cells offer a path towards both reduced fabrication cost and higher efficiency enabled by novel processes such as hot-electron extraction and carrier multiplication. Here we use a new class of low-cost, low-toxicity CuInSexS2−x quantum dots to demonstrate sensitized solar cells with certified efficiencies exceeding 5%. Among other material and device design improvements studied, use of a methanol-based polysulfide electrolyte results in a particularly dramatic enhancement in photocurrent and reduced series resistance. Despite the high vapour pressure of methanol, the solar cells are stable for months under ambient conditions, which is much longer than any previously reported quantum dot sensitized solar cell. This study demonstrates the large potential of CuInSexS2−x quantum dots as active materials for the realization of low-cost, robust and efficient photovoltaics as well as a platform for investigating various advanced concepts derived from the unique physics of the nanoscale size regime.
Although quantum dots are a promising alternative to dyes in sensitised solar cells, most are based on toxic heavy metals. McDaniel et al. demonstrate devices made with low-cost copper-based quantum dots that achieve certified efficiencies unprecedented for quantum dot sensitized solar cells.
PMCID: PMC3863971  PMID: 24322379
4.  A new dawn for industrial photosynthesis 
Photosynthesis Research  2011;107(3):269-277.
Several emerging technologies are aiming to meet renewable fuel standards, mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, and provide viable alternatives to fossil fuels. Direct conversion of solar energy into fungible liquid fuel is a particularly attractive option, though conversion of that energy on an industrial scale depends on the efficiency of its capture and conversion. Large-scale programs have been undertaken in the recent past that used solar energy to grow innately oil-producing algae for biomass processing to biodiesel fuel. These efforts were ultimately deemed to be uneconomical because the costs of culturing, harvesting, and processing of algal biomass were not balanced by the process efficiencies for solar photon capture and conversion. This analysis addresses solar capture and conversion efficiencies and introduces a unique systems approach, enabled by advances in strain engineering, photobioreactor design, and a process that contradicts prejudicial opinions about the viability of industrial photosynthesis. We calculate efficiencies for this direct, continuous solar process based on common boundary conditions, empirical measurements and validated assumptions wherein genetically engineered cyanobacteria convert industrially sourced, high-concentration CO2 into secreted, fungible hydrocarbon products in a continuous process. These innovations are projected to operate at areal productivities far exceeding those based on accumulation and refining of plant or algal biomass or on prior assumptions of photosynthetic productivity. This concept, currently enabled for production of ethanol and alkane diesel fuel molecules, and operating at pilot scale, establishes a new paradigm for high productivity manufacturing of nonfossil-derived fuels and chemicals.
PMCID: PMC3059824  PMID: 21318462
Cyanobacteria; Metabolic engineering; Hydrocarbon; Alkane; Diesel; Renewable fuel; Algae; Biomass; Biodiesel
5.  Organic Solar Cells: Understanding the Role of Förster Resonance Energy Transfer 
Organic solar cells have the potential to become a low-cost sustainable energy source. Understanding the photoconversion mechanism is key to the design of efficient organic solar cells. In this review, we discuss the processes involved in the photo-electron conversion mechanism, which may be subdivided into exciton harvesting, exciton transport, exciton dissociation, charge transport and extraction stages. In particular, we focus on the role of energy transfer as described by Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) theory in the photoconversion mechanism. FRET plays a major role in exciton transport, harvesting and dissociation. The spectral absorption range of organic solar cells may be extended using sensitizers that efficiently transfer absorbed energy to the photoactive materials. The limitations of Förster theory to accurately calculate energy transfer rates are discussed. Energy transfer is the first step of an efficient two-step exciton dissociation process and may also be used to preferentially transport excitons to the heterointerface, where efficient exciton dissociation may occur. However, FRET also competes with charge transfer at the heterointerface turning it in a potential loss mechanism. An energy cascade comprising both energy transfer and charge transfer may aid in separating charges and is briefly discussed. Considering the extent to which the photo-electron conversion efficiency is governed by energy transfer, optimisation of this process offers the prospect of improved organic photovoltaic performance and thus aids in realising the potential of organic solar cells.
PMCID: PMC3546737  PMID: 23235328
organic solar cells; photovoltaic; exciton; FRET; energy transfer; photoconversion mechanism; review
6.  Silicon and Germanium Nanostructures for Photovoltaic Applications: Ab-Initio Results 
Nanoscale Research Letters  2010;5(10):1637-1649.
Actually, most of the electric energy is being produced by fossil fuels and great is the search for viable alternatives. The most appealing and promising technology is photovoltaics. It will become truly mainstream when its cost will be comparable to other energy sources. One way is to significantly enhance device efficiencies, for example by increasing the number of band gaps in multijunction solar cells or by favoring charge separation in the devices. This can be done by using cells based on nanostructured semiconductors. In this paper, we will present ab-initio results of the structural, electronic and optical properties of (1) silicon and germanium nanoparticles embedded in wide band gap materials and (2) mixed silicon-germanium nanowires. We show that theory can help in understanding the microscopic processes important for devices performances. In particular, we calculated for embedded Si and Ge nanoparticles the dependence of the absorption threshold on size and oxidation, the role of crystallinity and, in some cases, the recombination rates, and we demonstrated that in the case of mixed nanowires, those with a clear interface between Si and Ge show not only a reduced quantum confinement effect but display also a natural geometrical separation between electron and hole.
PMCID: PMC2956023  PMID: 21076696
Silicon; Germanium; Nanocrystals; Nanowires; Nanophotonics; Photovoltaics
7.  Silicon and Germanium Nanostructures for Photovoltaic Applications: Ab-Initio Results 
Nanoscale Research Letters  2010;5(10):1637-1649.
Actually, most of the electric energy is being produced by fossil fuels and great is the search for viable alternatives. The most appealing and promising technology is photovoltaics. It will become truly mainstream when its cost will be comparable to other energy sources. One way is to significantly enhance device efficiencies, for example by increasing the number of band gaps in multijunction solar cells or by favoring charge separation in the devices. This can be done by using cells based on nanostructured semiconductors. In this paper, we will present ab-initio results of the structural, electronic and optical properties of (1) silicon and germanium nanoparticles embedded in wide band gap materials and (2) mixed silicon-germanium nanowires. We show that theory can help in understanding the microscopic processes important for devices performances. In particular, we calculated for embedded Si and Ge nanoparticles the dependence of the absorption threshold on size and oxidation, the role of crystallinity and, in some cases, the recombination rates, and we demonstrated that in the case of mixed nanowires, those with a clear interface between Si and Ge show not only a reduced quantum confinement effect but display also a natural geometrical separation between electron and hole.
PMCID: PMC2956023  PMID: 21076696
Silicon; Germanium; Nanocrystals; Nanowires; Nanophotonics; Photovoltaics
8.  From natural to artificial photosynthesis 
Demand for energy is projected to increase at least twofold by mid-century relative to the present global consumption because of predicted population and economic growth. This demand could be met, in principle, from fossil energy resources, particularly coal. However, the cumulative nature of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions demands that stabilizing the atmospheric CO2 levels to just twice their pre-anthropogenic values by mid-century will be extremely challenging, requiring invention, development and deployment of schemes for carbon-neutral energy production on a scale commensurate with, or larger than, the entire present-day energy supply from all sources combined. Among renewable and exploitable energy resources, nuclear fusion energy or solar energy are by far the largest. However, in both cases, technological breakthroughs are required with nuclear fusion being very difficult, if not impossible on the scale required. On the other hand, 1 h of sunlight falling on our planet is equivalent to all the energy consumed by humans in an entire year. If solar energy is to be a major primary energy source, then it must be stored and despatched on demand to the end user. An especially attractive approach is to store solar energy in the form of chemical bonds as occurs in natural photosynthesis. However, a technology is needed which has a year-round average conversion efficiency significantly higher than currently available by natural photosynthesis so as to reduce land-area requirements and to be independent of food production. Therefore, the scientific challenge is to construct an ‘artificial leaf’ able to efficiently capture and convert solar energy and then store it in the form of chemical bonds of a high-energy density fuel such as hydrogen while at the same time producing oxygen from water. Realistically, the efficiency target for such a technology must be 10 per cent or better. Here, we review the molecular details of the energy capturing reactions of natural photosynthesis, particularly the water-splitting reaction of photosystem II and the hydrogen-generating reaction of hydrogenases. We then follow on to describe how these two reactions are being mimicked in physico-chemical-based catalytic or electrocatalytic systems with the challenge of creating a large-scale robust and efficient artificial leaf technology.
PMCID: PMC3627107  PMID: 23365193
artificial leaf; hydrogenases; photosystem II; solar energy; solar fuels; water splitting
9.  Improved dye-sensitized solar cell with a ZnO nanotree photoanode by hydrothermal method 
Nanoscale Research Letters  2014;9(1):206.
This study investigated the influence of ZnO nanostructures on dye adsorption to increase the photovoltaic conversion efficiency of solar cells. ZnO nanostructures were grown in both tree-like and nanorod (NR) arrays on an AZO/FTO film structure by using a hydrothermal method. The results were observed in detail using X-ray diffraction, field-emission scanning electron microscopy (FE-SEM), UV-visible spectrophotometry, electrochemical impedance spectroscopy, and solar simulation. The selective growth of tree-like ZnO was found to exhibit higher dye adsorption loading and conversion efficiency than ZnO NRs. The multiple ‘branches’ of ‘tree-like nanostructures’ increases the surface area for higher light harvesting and dye loading while reducing charge recombination. These improvements result in a 15% enhancement in power conversion. The objective of this study is to facilitate the development of a ZnO-based dye-sensitized solar cell.
PMCID: PMC4022993  PMID: 24872799
Zinc oxide; Dye-sensitized solar cell; Nanorods; Tree-like
10.  Genetic Engineering of Cyanobacteria to Enhance Biohydrogen Production from Sunlight and Water 
Ambio  2012;41(Suppl 2):169-173.
To mitigate global warming caused by burning fossil fuels, a renewable energy source available in large quantity is urgently required. We are proposing large-scale photobiological H2 production by mariculture-raised cyanobacteria where the microbes capture part of the huge amount of solar energy received on earth’s surface and use water as the source of electrons to reduce protons. The H2 production system is based on photosynthetic and nitrogenase activities of cyanobacteria, using uptake hydrogenase mutants that can accumulate H2 for extended periods even in the presence of evolved O2. This review summarizes our efforts to improve the rate of photobiological H2 production through genetic engineering. The challenges yet to be overcome to further increase the conversion efficiency of solar energy to H2 also are discussed.
PMCID: PMC3357757  PMID: 22434447
Cyanobacteria; Hydrogen; Hydrogenase; Nitrogenase; Photobiological H2 production
11.  Energy Conversion in Natural and Artificial Photosynthesis 
Chemistry & biology  2010;17(5):434-447.
Modern civilization is dependent upon fossil fuels, a nonrenewable energy source originally provided by the storage of solar energy. Fossil fuel dependence has severe consequences including energy security issues and greenhouse gas emissions. The consequences of fossil fuel dependence could be avoided by fuel-producing artificial systems that mimic natural photosynthesis, directly converting solar energy to fuel. This review describes the three key components of solar energy conversion in photosynthesis: light harvesting, charge separation, and catalysis. These processes are compared in natural and artificial systems. Such a comparison can assist in understanding the general principles of photosynthesis and in developing working devices including photoelectrochemical cells for solar energy conversion.
PMCID: PMC2891097  PMID: 20534342
12.  Amorphous silicon nanocone array solar cell 
Nanoscale Research Letters  2012;7(1):172.
In the hydrogenated amorphous silicon [a-Si:H]-thin film solar cell, large amounts of traps reduce the carrier's lifetime that limit the photovoltaic performance, especially the power conversion efficiency. The nanowire structure is proposed to solve the low efficiency problem. In this work, we propose an amorphous silicon [a-Si]-solar cell with a nanocone array structure were implemented by reactive-ion etching through a polystyrene nanosphere template. The amorphous-Si nanocone exhibits absorption coefficient around 5 × 105/cm which is similar to the planar a-Si:H layer in our study. The nanostructure could provide the efficient carrier collection. Owing to the better carrier collection efficiency, efficiency of a-Si solar cell was increased from 1.43% to 1.77% by adding the nanocone structure which has 24% enhancement. Further passivation of the a-Si:H surface by hydrogen plasma treatment and an additional 10-nm intrinsic-a-Si:H layer, the efficiency could further increase to 2.2%, which is 54% enhanced as compared to the planar solar cell. The input-photon-to-current conversion efficiency spectrum indicates the efficient carrier collection from 300 to 800 nm of incident light.
PMCID: PMC3310725  PMID: 22395021
Nanocone; amorphous silicon; solar cell
13.  Surfactant free most probable TiO2 nanostructures via hydrothermal and its dye sensitized solar cell properties 
Scientific Reports  2013;3:3004.
Tailoring the nano-morphology and nano-architecture of titanium dioxide (TiO2) is the most important task in the third generation solar cells (Dye sensitized solar cells/Quantum dot sensitized solar cells) (DSSCs/QDSSCs). In this article we present complete study of surfactant free synthesis of TiO2 nanostructures by a simple and promising hydrothermal route. The plethora of nanostructures like nanoparticles clusters, 1D tetragonal nanorods, 3D dendrites containing nanorods having <30 nm diameter and 3D hollow urchin like have been synthesized. These nanostructures possess effective large surface area and thus useful in DSSCs. In the present work, 7.16% power conversion efficiency has been demonstrated for 3D dendritic hollow urchin like morphology. Our synthetic strategy provides an effective solution for surfactant free synthesis of efficient TiO2 nanoarchitectures.
PMCID: PMC3801147  PMID: 24141599
14.  Dye Sensitized Solar Cells 
Dye sensitized solar cell (DSSC) is the only solar cell that can offer both the flexibility and transparency. Its efficiency is comparable to amorphous silicon solar cells but with a much lower cost. This review not only covers the fundamentals of DSSC but also the related cutting-edge research and its development for industrial applications. Most recent research topics on DSSC, for example, applications of nanostructured TiO2, ZnO electrodes, ionic liquid electrolytes, carbon nanotubes, graphene and solid state DSSC have all been included and discussed.
PMCID: PMC2869240  PMID: 20480003
photoelectrochemistry; dye sensitized solar cells (DSSC)
15.  Design, synthesis, and characterization of novel nanowire structures for photovoltaics and intracellular probes* 
Semiconductor nanowires (NWs) represent a unique system for exploring phenomena at the nanoscale and are expected to play a critical role in future electronic, optoelectronic, and miniaturized biomedical devices. Modulation of the composition and geometry of nanostructures during growth could encode information or function, and realize novel applications beyond the conventional lithographical limits. This review focuses on the fundamental science aspects of the bottom-up paradigm, which are synthesis and physical property characterization of semiconductor NWs and NW heterostructures, as well as proof-of-concept device concept demonstrations, including solar energy conversion and intracellular probes. A new NW materials synthesis is discussed and, in particular, a new “nanotectonic” approach is introduced that provides iterative control over the NW nucleation and growth for constructing 2D kinked NW superstructures. The use of radial and axial p-type/intrinsic/n-type (p-i-n) silicon NW (Si-NW) building blocks for solar cells and nanoscale power source applications is then discussed. The critical benefits of such structures and recent results are described and critically analyzed, together with some of the diverse challenges and opportunities in the near future. Finally, results are presented on several new directions, which have recently been exploited in interfacing biological systems with NW devices.
PMCID: PMC3374661  PMID: 22707797
biotechnology; intracellular; nanowires; photovoltaics; synthesis
16.  An ultraviolet responsive hybrid solar cell based on titania/poly(3-hexylthiophene) 
Scientific Reports  2013;3:1283.
Here we present an ultraviolet responsive inorganic-organic hybrid solar cell based on titania/poly(3-hexylthiophene) (TiO2/P3HT) heterojuction. In this solar cell, TiO2 is an ultraviolet light absorber and electronic conductor, P3HT is a hole conductor, the light-to-electrical conversion is realized by the cooperation for these two components. Doping ionic salt in P3HT polymer can improve the photovoltaic performance of the solar cell. Under ultraviolet light irradiation with intensity of 100 mW·cm−2, the hybrid solar cell doped with 1.0 wt.% lithium iodide achieves an energy conversion efficiency of 1.28%, which is increased by 33.3% compared to that of the hybrid solar cell without lithium iodide doping. Our results open a novel sunlight irradiation field for solar energy utilization, demonstrate the feasibility of ultraviolet responsive solar cells, and provide a new route for enhancing the photovoltaic performance of solar cells.
PMCID: PMC3573334  PMID: 23412470
17.  Advancements in n-Type Base Crystalline Silicon Solar Cells and Their Emergence in the Photovoltaic Industry 
The Scientific World Journal  2013;2013:470347.
The p-type crystalline silicon wafers have occupied most of the solar cell market today. However, modules made with n-type crystalline silicon wafers are actually the most efficient modules up to date. This is because the material properties offered by n-type crystalline silicon substrates are suitable for higher efficiencies. Properties such as the absence of boron-oxygen related defects and a greater tolerance to key metal impurities by n-type crystalline silicon substrates are major factors that underline the efficiency of n-type crystalline silicon wafer modules. The bi-facial design of n-type cells with good rear-side electronic and optical properties on an industrial scale can be shaped as well. Furthermore, the development in the industrialization of solar cell designs based on n-type crystalline silicon substrates also highlights its boost in the contributions to the photovoltaic industry. In this paper, a review of various solar cell structures that can be realized on n-type crystalline silicon substrates will be given. Moreover, the current standing of solar cell technology based on n-type substrates and its contribution in photovoltaic industry will also be discussed.
PMCID: PMC3891230  PMID: 24459433
18.  Broadband solar absorption enhancement via periodic nanostructuring of electrodes 
Scientific Reports  2013;3:2928.
Solution processed colloidal quantum dot (CQD) solar cells have great potential for large area low-cost photovoltaics. However, light utilization remains low mainly due to the tradeoff between small carrier transport lengths and longer infrared photon absorption lengths. Here, we demonstrate a bottom-illuminated periodic nanostructured CQD solar cell that enhances broadband absorption without compromising charge extraction efficiency of the device. We use finite difference time domain (FDTD) simulations to study the nanostructure for implementation in a realistic device and then build proof-of-concept nanostructured solar cells, which exhibit a broadband absorption enhancement over the wavelength range of λ = 600 to 1100 nm, leading to a 31% improvement in overall short-circuit current density compared to a planar device containing an approximately equal volume of active material. Remarkably, the improved current density is achieved using a light-absorber volume less than half that typically used in the best planar devices.
PMCID: PMC3796292  PMID: 24121519
19.  Highly efficient carrier multiplication in PbS nanosheets 
Nature Communications  2014;5:3789.
Semiconductor nanocrystals are promising for use in cheap and highly efficient solar cells. A high efficiency can be achieved by carrier multiplication (CM), which yields multiple electron-hole pairs for a single absorbed photon. Lead chalcogenide nanocrystals are of specific interest, since their band gap can be tuned to be optimal to exploit CM in solar cells. Interestingly, for a given photon energy CM is more efficient in bulk PbS and PbSe, which has been attributed to the higher density of states. Unfortunately, these bulk materials are not useful for solar cells due to their low band gap. Here we demonstrate that two-dimensional PbS nanosheets combine the band gap of a confined system with the high CM efficiency of bulk. Interestingly, in thin PbS nanosheets virtually the entire excess photon energy above the CM threshold is used for CM, in contrast to quantum dots, nanorods and bulk lead chalcogenide materials.
Carrier multiplication processes, where photons are converted into multiple charge carriers, promise higher efficiencies for solar cells based on quantum dots and nanorods. Here, the authors demonstrate carrier multiplication in PbS nanosheets, extending this effect to two-dimensional materials.
PMCID: PMC4015322  PMID: 24781188
20.  Integrated photoelectrochemical energy storage: solar hydrogen generation and supercapacitor 
Scientific Reports  2012;2:981.
Current solar energy harvest and storage are so far realized by independent technologies (such as solar cell and batteries), by which only a fraction of solar energy is utilized. It is highly desirable to improve the utilization efficiency of solar energy. Here, we construct an integrated photoelectrochemical device with simultaneous supercapacitor and hydrogen evolution functions based on TiO2/transition metal hydroxides/oxides core/shell nanorod arrays. The feasibility of solar-driven pseudocapacitance is clearly demonstrated, and the charge/discharge is indicated by reversible color changes (photochromism). In such an integrated device, the photogenerated electrons are utilized for H2 generation and holes for pseudocapacitive charging, so that both the reductive and oxidative energies are captured and converted. Specific capacitances of 482 F g−1 at 0.5 A g−1 and 287 F g−1 at 1 A g−1 are obtained with TiO2/Ni(OH)2 nanorod arrays. This study provides a new research strategy for integrated pseudocapacitor and solar energy application.
PMCID: PMC3522068  PMID: 23248745
21.  Comparative energetics and kinetics of autotrophic lipid and starch metabolism in chlorophytic microalgae: implications for biomass and biofuel production 
Due to the growing need to provide alternatives to fossil fuels as efficiently, economically, and sustainably as possible there has been growing interest in improved biofuel production systems. Biofuels produced from microalgae are a particularly attractive option since microalgae have production potentials that exceed the best terrestrial crops by 2 to 10-fold. In addition, autotrophically grown microalgae can capture CO2 from point sources reducing direct atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions. The enhanced biomass production potential of algae is attributed in part to the fact that every cell is photosynthetic. Regardless, overall biological energy capture, conversion, and storage in microalgae are inefficient with less than 8% conversion of solar into chemical energy achieved. In this review, we examine the thermodynamic and kinetic constraints associated with the autotrophic conversion of inorganic carbon into storage carbohydrate and oil, the dominant energy storage products in Chlorophytic microalgae. We discuss how thermodynamic restrictions including the loss of fixed carbon during acetyl CoA synthesis reduce the efficiency of carbon accumulation in lipids. In addition, kinetic limitations, such as the coupling of proton to electron transfer during plastoquinone reduction and oxidation and the slow rates of CO2 fixation by Rubisco reduce photosynthetic efficiency. In some cases, these kinetic limitations have been overcome by massive increases in the numbers of effective catalytic sites, e.g. the high Rubisco levels (mM) in chloroplasts. But in other cases, including the slow rate of plastoquinol oxidation, there has been no compensatory increase in the abundance of catalytically limiting protein complexes. Significantly, we show that the energetic requirements for producing oil and starch relative to the recoverable energy stored in these molecules are very similar on a per carbon basis. Presently, the overall rates of starch and lipid synthesis in microalgae are very poorly characterized. Increased understanding of the kinetic constraints of lipid and starch synthesis, accumulation and turnover would facilitate the design of improved biomass production systems.
PMCID: PMC4015678  PMID: 24139286
Biofuel; Algae; Plant; Storage carbohydrate; Starch; Oil; Energetics; Photosynthesis; Biomass; Metabolism; Cultivation
22.  Near-field effects and energy transfer in hybrid metal-oxide nanostructures 
One of the big challenges of the 21st century is the utilization of nanotechnology for energy technology. Nanoscale structures may provide novel functionality, which has been demonstrated most convincingly by successful applications such as dye-sensitized solar cells introduced by M. Grätzel. Applications in energy technology are based on the transfer and conversion of energy. Following the example of photosynthesis, this requires a combination of light harvesting, transfer of energy to a reaction center, and conversion to other forms of energy by charge separation and transfer. This may be achieved by utilizing hybrid nanostructures, which combine metallic and nonmetallic components. Metallic nanostructures can interact strongly with light. Plasmonic excitations of such structures can cause local enhancement of the electrical field, which has been utilized in spectroscopy for many years. On the other hand, the excited states in metallic structures decay over very short lifetimes. Longer lifetimes of excited states occur in nonmetallic nanostructures, which makes them attractive for further energy transfer before recombination or relaxation sets in. Therefore, the combination of metallic nanostructures with nonmetallic materials is of great interest. We report investigations of hybrid nanostructured model systems that consist of a combination of metallic nanoantennas (fabricated by nanosphere lithography, NSL) and oxide nanoparticles. The oxide particles were doped with rare-earth (RE) ions, which show a large shift between absorption and emission wavelengths, allowing us to investigate the energy-transfer processes in detail. The main focus is on TiO2 nanoparticles doped with Eu3+, since the material is interesting for applications such as the generation of hydrogen by photocatalytic splitting of water molecules. We use high-resolution techniques such as confocal fluorescence microscopy for the investigation of energy-transfer processes. The experiments are supported by simulations of the electromagnetic field enhancement in the vicinity of well-defined nanoantennas. The results show that the presence of the nanoparticle layer can modify the field enhancement significantly. In addition, we find that the fluorescent intensities observed in the experiments are affected by agglomeration of the nanoparticles. In order to further elucidate the possible influence of agglomeration and quenching effects in the vicinity of the nanoantennas, we have used a commercial organic pigment containing Eu, which exhibits an extremely narrow particle size distribution and no significant agglomeration. We demonstrate that quenching of the Eu fluorescence can be suppressed by covering the nanoantennas with a 10 nm thick SiOx layer.
PMCID: PMC3678447  PMID: 23766954
confocal microscopy; energy transfer; field enhancement; light harvesting; luminescence; nano-antennas; nanosphere lithography; nanostructures; plasmonics; simulation; TiO2 nanoparticles
23.  The influence of passivation and photovoltaic properties of α-Si:H coverage on silicon nanowire array solar cells 
Nanoscale Research Letters  2013;8(1):396.
Silicon nanowire (SiNW) arrays for radial p-n junction solar cells offer potential advantages of light trapping effects and quick charge collection. Nevertheless, lower open circuit voltages (Voc) lead to lower energy conversion efficiencies. In such cases, the performance of the solar cells depends critically on the quality of the SiNW interfaces. In this study, SiNW core-shell solar cells have been fabricated by growing crystalline silicon (c-Si) nanowires via the metal-assisted chemical etching method and by depositing hydrogenated amorphous silicon (α-Si:H) via the plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition (PECVD) method. The influence of deposition parameters on the coverage and, consequently, the passivation and photovoltaic properties of α-Si:H layers on SiNW solar cells have been analyzed.
PMCID: PMC3848890  PMID: 24059343
Radial p-n SiNW solar cell; Hydrogenated amorphous silicon; Surface coverage; Open circuit voltage
24.  A Versatile Three-Dimensional Virus-Based Template for Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells with Improved Electron Transport and Light Harvesting 
ACS nano  2013;7(8):6563-6574.
By genetically encoding affinity for inorganic materials into the capsid proteins of the M13 bacteriophage, the virus can act as a template for the synthesis of nanomaterial composites for use in various device applications. Herein, the M13 bacteriophage is employed to build a multifunctional and three-dimensional scaffold capable of improving both electron collection and light harvesting in dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs). This has been accomplished by binding gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) to the virus proteins and encapsulating the AuNP-virus complexes in TiO2 to produce a plasmon-enhanced and nanowire (NW)-based photoanode. The NW morphology exhibits an improved electron diffusion length compared to traditional nanoparticle-based DSSCs and the AuNPs increase the light absorption of the dye-molecules through the phenomenon of localized surface plasmon resonance. Consequently, we report a virus-templated and plasmon-enhanced DSSC with an efficiency of 8.46%, which is achieved through optimizing both the NW morphology and the concentration of AuNPs loaded into the solar cells. In addition, we propose a theoretical model that predicts the experimentally observed trends of plasmon-enhancement.
PMCID: PMC3930168  PMID: 23808626
M13 bacteriophage; bio-template; three-dimensional network; dye-sensitized solar cells; electron transport; light harvesting; localized surface plasmon resonance
25.  A High Diffusive Model for Nanomaterials 
Considerable attention is today devoted to the engineering of films widely used in photocatalytic, solar energy converters, photochemical and photoelectrochemical cells, dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs), to optimize electronic time response following photogeneration. However, the precise nature of transport processes in these systems has remained unresolved. To investigate such aspects of carrier dynamics, we have suggested a model for the calculation of correlation functions, expressed as the Fourier transform of the frequency-dependent complex conductivity σ(ω). Results are presented for the velocity correlation functions, the mean square deviation of position and the diffusion coefficient in systems, like TiO2 and doped Si, of large interest in present devices. Fast diffusion occurs in short time intervals of the order of few collision times. Consequences for efficiency of this fast response are discussed in relation to nanostructured devices.
PMCID: PMC3211483
Correlation Functions; Diffusion; Frequency-Dependent Complex Conductivity; Nanostructures; Semiconducting Oxides; Montecarlo Simulation

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