Letter

Nature 449, 885-889 (18 October 2007) | doi:10.1038/nature06181; Received 15 May 2007; Accepted 7 August 2007

Coaxial silicon nanowires as solar cells and nanoelectronic power sources

Bozhi Tian1,3, Xiaolin Zheng1,3, Thomas J. Kempa1, Ying Fang1, Nanfang Yu2, Guihua Yu1, Jinlin Huang1 & Charles M. Lieber1,2

  1. Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology,
  2. School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA
  3. These authors contributed equally to this work.

Correspondence to: Charles M. Lieber1,2 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to C.M.L. (Email: cml@cmliris.harvard.edu).

Solar cells are attractive candidates for clean and renewable power1, 2; with miniaturization, they might also serve as integrated power sources for nanoelectronic systems. The use of nanostructures or nanostructured materials represents a general approach to reduce both cost and size and to improve efficiency in photovoltaics1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. Nanoparticles, nanorods and nanowires have been used to improve charge collection efficiency in polymer-blend4 and dye-sensitized solar cells5, 6, to demonstrate carrier multiplication7, and to enable low-temperature processing of photovoltaic devices3, 4, 5, 6. Moreover, recent theoretical studies have indicated that coaxial nanowire structures could improve carrier collection and overall efficiency with respect to single-crystal bulk semiconductors of the same materials8, 9. However, solar cells based on hybrid nanoarchitectures suffer from relatively low efficiencies and poor stabilities1. In addition, previous studies have not yet addressed their use as photovoltaic power elements in nanoelectronics. Here we report the realization of p-type/intrinsic/n-type (p-i-n) coaxial silicon nanowire solar cells. Under one solar equivalent (1-sun) illumination, the p-i-n silicon nanowire elements yield a maximum power output of up to 200 pW per nanowire device and an apparent energy conversion efficiency of up to 3.4 per cent, with stable and improved efficiencies achievable at high-flux illuminations. Furthermore, we show that individual and interconnected silicon nanowire photovoltaic elements can serve as robust power sources to drive functional nanoelectronic sensors and logic gates. These coaxial silicon nanowire photovoltaic elements provide a new nanoscale test bed for studies of photoinduced energy/charge transport and artificial photosynthesis10, and might find general usage as elements for powering ultralow-power electronics11 and diverse nanosystems12, 13.

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