Gram-scale synthesis of carbon quantum dots with a large Stokes shift for the fabrication of eco-friendly and high-efficiency luminescent solar concentrators†
Luminescent solar concentrators (LSCs) are large-area sunlight collectors coupled to small area solar cells, for efficient solar-to-electricity conversion. The three key points for the successful market penetration of LSCs are: (i) removal of light losses due to reabsorption during light collection; (ii) high light-to-electrical power conversion efficiency of the final device; (iii) long-term stability of the LSC structure related to the stability of both the matrix and the luminophores. Among various types of fluorophores, carbon quantum dots (C-dots) offer a wide absorption spectrum, high quantum yield, non-toxicity, environmental friendliness, low-cost, and eco-friendly synthetic methods. However, they are characterized by a relatively small Stokes shift, compared to inorganic quantum dots, which limits the highest external optical efficiency that can be obtained for a large-area single-layer LSC (>100 cm2) based on C-dots below 2%. Herein, we report highly efficient large-area LSCs (100–225 cm2) based on colloidal C-dots synthesized via a space-confined vacuum-heating approach. This one batch reaction could produce Gram-scale C-dots with a high quantum yield (QY) (∼65%) using eco-friendly citric acid and urea as precursors. Thanks to their very narrow size distribution, the C-dots produced via the space-confined vacuum-heating approach had a large Stokes shift of 0.53 eV, 50% larger than C-dots synthesized via a standard solvothermal reaction using the same precursors with a similar absorption range. The large-area LSC (15 × 15 × 0.5 cm3) prepared by using polyvinyl pyrrolidone (PVP) polymer as a matrix exhibited an external optical efficiency of 2.2% (under natural sun irradiation, 60 mW cm−2, uncharacterized spectrum). After coupling to silicon solar cells, the LSC exhibited a power conversion efficiency (PCE) of 1.13% under natural sunlight illumination (20 mW cm−2, uncharacterized spectrum). These unprecedented results were obtained by completely suppressing the reabsorption losses during light collection, as proved by optical spectroscopy. These findings demonstrate the possibility of obtaining eco-friendly, high-efficiency, large-area LSCs through scalable production techniques, paving the way to the lab-to-fab transition of this kind of devices.