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Ming-Min Yang, Dong Jik Kim, Marin Alexe
Science. 2018 May 25;360(6391):904-907.
It is highly desirable to discover photovoltaic mechanisms that enable enhanced efficiency of solar cells. Here we report that the bulk photovoltaic effect, which is free from the thermodynamic Shockley-Queisser limit but usually manifested only in noncentrosymmetric (piezoelectric or ferroelectric) materials, can be realized in any semiconductor, including silicon, by mediation of flexoelectric effect. We used either an atomic force microscope or a micrometer-scale indentation system to introduce strain gradients, thus creating very large photovoltaic currents from centrosymmetric single crystals of strontium titanate, titanium dioxide, and silicon. This strain gradient-induced bulk photovoltaic effect, which we call the flexo-photovoltaic effect, functions in the absence of a p-n junction. This finding may extend present solar cell technologies by boosting the solar energy conversion efficiency from a wide pool of established semiconductors.