Lanthanide ions as spectral converters for solar cells.
The use of lanthanide ions to convert photons to different, more useful, wavelengths is well-known from a wide range of applications (e.g. fluorescent tubes, lasers, white light LEDs). Recently, a new potential application has emerged: the use of lanthanide ions for spectral conversion in solar cells. The main energy loss in the conversion of solar energy to electricity is related to the so-called spectral mismatch: low energy photons are not absorbed by a solar cell while high energy photons are not used efficiently. To reduce the spectral mismatch losses both upconversion and downconversion are viable options. In the case of upconversion two low energy infrared photons that cannot be absorbed by the solar cell, are added up to give one high energy photon that can be absorbed. In the case of downconversion one high energy photon is split into two lower energy photons that can both be absorbed by the solar cell. The rich and unique energy level structure arising from the 4f(n) inner shell configuration of the trivalent lanthanide ions gives a variety of options for efficient up- and downconversion. In this perspective an overview will be given of recent work on photon management for solar cells. Three topics can be distinguished: (1) modelling of the potential impact of spectral conversion on the efficiency of solar cells; (2) research on up- and downconversion materials based on lanthanides; and (3) proof-of-principle experiments. Finally, an outlook will be given, including issues that need to be resolved before wide scale application of up- and downconversion materials can be anticipated.