Microfluidic Schottky-junction photovoltaics with superior efficiency stimulated by plasmonic nanoparticles and streaming potential†
A droplet energy harvester (DEH) composed of aqueous salt solution could generate electrical energy from light when placed on a metal–semiconductor Schottky-junction emulating the principles of electrochemical photovoltaics (ECPV). The maximum potential difference generated was ∼95 mV under sun, which was enhanced by ∼1.5 times after the addition of gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) in the droplet because of the generation of additional charge carriers from the localized surface plasmon resonance (LSPR). Focusing the solar illumination through a bi-convex lens on five such droplets increased the voltage to ∼320 mV with a power density of ∼0.25 mW cm−2. When the DEH was converted to a microfluidic energy harvester (MEH) by flowing the AuNP laden salt solution through a microchannel integrated with an array of Schottky-junction electrodes, at an optimal flow rate, another two-fold increase in the power density was observed. In the MEH, because the ECPV aided by the LSPR converted the solar energy into electrical energy, the streaming potential (SP) generated across the electrodes because of the fluid flow converted the mechanical energy into electrical energy. Increase in the number of electrode pairs improved the voltage generation, which suggested that the MEH had potential for microscale-very-large-scale-integration (μ-VLSI). The combined effects of ECPV, LSPR, and SP in the MEH could show an efficiency ∼2.5%, which was one of the highest ones reported, for Schottky-junction energy harvesters. This study shows some simple and efficient pathways to harvest high-density electrical power using microchannels and droplets from the naturally abundant solar or hydroelectric (hydel) energy resources.