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E3.01 - Optimal Sunlight Harvesting in Photovoltaics and Photosynthesis 
April 22, 2014   1:30pm - 1:45pm

Materials employed to harvest sunlight are commonly recognized to be at a premium when their optical absorption peaks in the visible, extends to the infra-red, is panchromatic, and matched to the solar spectrum. By contrast, natural photosynthetic absorbers such as chlorophylls and carotenoids display absorption spectra with narrow peaks for yet unknown evolutionary reasons. Beyond such general observations, a rigorous treatment of sunlight harvesting optimization is still lacking. In this talk, we provide a quantitative analysis of optimal solar energy harvesting in materials. We show a procedure to derive optimal absorption spectra for sunlight harvesting as a function of absorber thickness, and elucidate the concept of solar-matched absorption and its applicability limits. We demonstrate that the shape of the optimal absorption spectrum depends on the thickness and geometry of the absorber, and provide optimal absorption spectra for all thickness regimes. In addition, we define a procedure to rank photovoltaic materials for sunlight harvesting. We close our talk with a possible explanation of why absorption in plants photosynthetic pigments occurs in narrow energy windows.

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