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Keynote presentation: harvesting sunshine: solar cells, photosynthesis and the thermodynamics of light

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Abstract

Effective capture of sunlight represents one of the grand challenges of photovoltaics today. This paper looks at the opportunities that exist, at the fundamental level, to manage light as the first step of photovoltaic conversion; in particular, how photonics can improve the efficiency and reduce the cost of solar cells. Starting from the current view of light trapping we shall introduce an additional variable: photon frequency. The example of fluorescent collectors will be used to discuss the principal features of frequency management, leading to a novel form of light trapping and, ultimately, the photonic bandgap solar cell. The discussion will be guided by arguments based on thermodynamics to describe photon transformation as part of the absorption / emission / conversion process. By drawing parallels with the capture of light in photosynthetic organisms we shall briefly discuss another important aspect: light harvesting energy collection, and the oportunity this represents for reducing the materials usage in future generations of solar cells.