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Published November 26, 2019 | Supplemental Material
Journal Article Open

Radiation Tolerant Nanowire Array Solar Cells


Space power systems require photovoltaics that are lightweight, efficient, reliable, and capable of operating for years or decades in space environment. Current solar panels use planar multijunction, III–V based solar cells with very high efficiency, but their specific power (power to weight ratio) is limited by the added mass of radiation shielding (e.g., coverglass) required to protect the cells from the high-energy particle radiation that occurs in space. Here, we demonstrate that III–V nanowire-array solar cells have dramatically superior radiation performance relative to planar solar cell designs and show this for multiple cell geometries and materials, including GaAs and InP. Nanowire cells exhibit damage thresholds ranging from ∼10–40 times higher than planar control solar cells when subjected to irradiation by 100–350 keV protons and 1 MeV electrons. Using Monte Carlo simulations, we show that this improvement is due in part to a reduction in the displacement density within the wires arising from their nanoscale dimensions. Radiation tolerance, combined with the efficient optical absorption and the improving performance of nanowire photovoltaics, indicates that nanowire arrays could provide a pathway to realize high-specific-power, substrate-free, III–V space solar cells with substantially reduced shielding requirements. More broadly, the exceptional reduction in radiation damage suggests that nanowire architectures may be useful in improving the radiation tolerance of other electronic and optoelectronic devices.

Additional Information

© 2019 American Chemical Society. Received: July 2, 2019; Accepted: October 18, 2019; Published: October 18, 2019. The authors acknowledge financial support from the Caltech Space Solar Power Project. The work performed within NanoLund was supported by the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet), the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research (SSF), and the Swedish Energy Agency. This research has been funded by Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation. This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Grant Agreement 641023 (Nano-Tandem) and under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Grant Agreement 656208. This publication reflects only the authors' views and the funding agency is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains. We acknowledge critical support and infrastructure provided for this work by the Kavli Nanoscience Institute at Caltech. We acknowledge the helpful contributions of J. Lloyd with the solar cell processing of the ELO GaAs solar cells at Caltech. We acknowledge The Aerospace Corporation for the irradiation test with protons and Boeing Radiation Effects Laboratory for the irradiation with electrons. This work was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy under Contract No. DE-AC36-08GO28308 with Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC, the operator of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The authors declare no competing financial interest.

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