Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Solar energy is a clean and sustainable energy source to counter global environmental issues of rising atmospheric CO2 levels and depletion of natural resources. To extract useful work from solar energy, silicon-based photovoltaic devices are extensively used. The technological maturity and the high quality of silicon (Si) make it a material of choice. However limitations in Si exist, ranging from its indirect band gap to low light absorption coefficient and energy and capital intensive crystal growth schemes. Therefore, alternate materials that are earth-abundant, benign and simpler to process are needed for developing new platforms for solar energy harvesting applications.
In this study, we explore oxides of copper (CuO and Cu2O) in a nanowire morphology as alternate energy harvesting materials. CuO has a bandgap of 1.2 eV whereas Cu2O has a bandgap of 2.1 eV making them ideally suited for absorbing solar radiation. First, we develop a method to synthesize vertical, single crystalline CuO and Cu2O nanowires of ~50 µm length and aspect ratios of ~200. CuO nanowire arrays are synthesized by thermal oxidation of Cu foils. Cu2O nanowire arrays are synthesized by thermal reduction of CuO nanowires.
Next, surface engineering of these nanowires is achieved using atomic layer deposition (ALD) of ZnO. By depositing 1.4 nm of ZnO, a highly defective surface is produced on the CuO nanowires. These defects are capable of trapping charge as is evident through persistent photoconductivity measurements of ZnO coated CuO nanowires. The same nanowires serve as efficient photocatalysts reducing CO2 to CO with a yield of 1.98 mmol/g-cat/hr. Finally, to develop a robust platform for flexible solar cells, a protocol to transfer vertical CuO nanowires inside flexible polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) is demonstrated. Embedded CuO nanowires-ZnO pn junctions show a VOC of 0.4 V and a JSC of 10.4 µA/cm2 under white light illumination of 5.7 mW/cm2. Thus, this research provides broad guidance to develop copper oxide nanowires as efficient platforms for a variety of solar energy harvesting applications.
Pratim Biswas, Viktor Gruev, Shankar Sastry, Srikanth Singamaneni, Li Yang