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Researchers claim the new high-capture solar material will be mass-producible within five years and will be capable of being added as a complement to existing installations.  (Source: After Gutenberg)
Efficiencies should get a healthy boost from capturing a boarder range of wavelengths

Traditionally, solar powered devices suffer from a two-fold problem.  First, they have difficulty converting the light they capture to electricity.  Second, they only capture a small band of wavelengths out of the wide range of wavelengths found in sunlight striking the Earth.  Improving in either area can offer gains to the net power output (and efficiency) of a solar cell.

Researchers at the University of Missouri are claiming a breakthrough in the second category.  They claim [press release] to have developed a device that can capture 90 percent of sunlight, versus the 20 percent that current photovoltaic (PV) panels capture.

To capture the wider range of wavelengths, Patrick Pinhero, associate professor of chemical engineering, used a special thin, moldable sheet of small antennas called nantenna.  The resulting material converts heat to electricity and can be used both for industrial heat recycling and for solar designs.  In solar designs it is capable of collecting both optical (visible) sunlight and the near infrared band sunlight that most cells miss.

Professor Pinhero collaborated with researchers at the Idaho National Laboratory and Garrett Moddel, an electrical engineering professor at the University of Colorado to develop a complete material with electronic devices capable of harvesting the heat and light collected by the nantenna.

Professor Pinhero is working to port the resulting device to a mass-producable design.  He's currently securing U.S. Department of Energy funding and money from private investors to accomplish this.  To that end, he's enlisted the help of Dennis Slafer of MicroContinuum, Inc., of Cambridge, Mass., a solar power and alternative energy firm.

"Our overall goal is to collect and utilize as much solar energy as is theoretically possible and bring it to the commercial market in an inexpensive package that is accessible to everyone," Professor Pinhero states.  "If successful, this product will put us orders of magnitudes ahead of the current solar energy technologies we have available to us today."

You can't fault Professor Pinhero for ambition.  He says that within five years he should be able to deliver a finished material that complements traditional PV panel designs in rooftop installations, solar power plant installations, or rooftop car panels.  This material would bump up the range of collected light, and by proxy bump up the cell's net efficiency and power output.

The instructor expects to create a broad range of commercial spinoffs based on the technology.  The spinoffs would be infrared (IR) detection based products, including contraband-identifying devices for airports and the military, optical computing, and infrared line-of-sight telecommunications.

A paper on the new device and material has been published [abstract] in the peer-reviewed Journal of Solar Energy Engineering.

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By tng on 5/17/2011 5:40:24 PM , Rating: 4
So it all sounds good, but the info is rather thin, even in the supporting material.

The problem is that this is one of a dozen little breakthroughs that I read about here and elsewhere and they never become a commercial product. Most never even make it out of the lab.

If solar is to become more than a niche producer, it will need something like this that will triple the current power output, drop production prices by half and be cheaper to install.

By SPOOFE on 5/17/2011 6:08:58 PM , Rating: 4
The problem is that this is one of a dozen little breakthroughs that I read about here and elsewhere and they never become a commercial product. Most never even make it out of the lab.

Yup. It all comes down to mass production; some "proof of concept" projects either rely on rare or expensive materials or a process that's labor/energy intensive that can't readily be jammed into an assembly line.

By Some1ne on 5/18/2011 8:22:58 AM , Rating: 3
Yes, because nothing that ever had a costly and labor-intensive "proof of concept" prototype has ever been successfully mass-produced as a consumer product.


By mcnabney on 5/17/2011 9:17:13 PM , Rating: 5
I only wanted two things from that article.

1. Watts/square meter
2. Estimated cost to manufacture that square meter.

Didn't get either.

By Jedi2155 on 5/17/2011 10:39:58 PM , Rating: 2
Your first part can easily be answered by the given value of 95% efficiency. Of course I highly doubt that its 95% efficient but given a typical irrandiance from the sun is around 1000 watts/square meter, a 95% efficient PV would mean 950 watts/square meter. Of course irrandiance is highly variable even in a clear day (varying between 900-1100) in the southern US.

As this is initial research, you can't possibly gain cost to manufacture either. The first poster is more right on in his criticism; you still need to refine yours.

By tastyratz on 5/17/2011 11:18:24 PM , Rating: 2
You are assuming a 95% total efficiency (lab pipe dream I think)
The bold claim is not 90% total system efficiency, its 90% efficiency in one piece of the puzzle. While it is a monumental slice of the pie, fancy tires don't turn a fiesta into a Ferarri. This would surely make a massive boost if it ever made it, but color me skeptical on its 5 year promise.

By Iketh on 5/18/2011 12:14:54 PM , Rating: 3
horrible analogy

By mikeyD95125 on 5/18/2011 12:33:58 AM , Rating: 3
This new material captures about 90% of the total wavelengths of the sun. The article does not state how much it actually turns into electricity. That would be the total efficiency rating.

By jamesjwb on 5/18/2011 6:08:46 AM , Rating: 2
Considering no breakthrough was mentioned in other areas, it would be the same as we have today. So 90% absorption rate of the waves plus whatever is the current conversion rate to electricity. I'm sure someone who knows the conversion rates can give a rough guestimate.

By Gurthang on 5/18/2011 10:53:25 AM , Rating: 2
The key words I am seeing in the abstract from the research is that they found a way to use these nano-antennas to harvest the infrared portions of the spectrum and that the intent is to use these in conjunction with existing solar cells to increase the amount of the spectrum that is collected. Unfortunatly we don't have any real efficency numbers here for these antennas. My guess is that they would use these in some form concentrated solar setup where you have a high efficency multi-junction cell array and these infrared converters behind some sort of lens system and just enough cooling to keep avrything working at peak production.

This would not be cheap but I would guess somewhere around 30% conversion effiency across a bit less than twice the amount of energy a typical concentrated PV system will pull down.

Put a heat exchanger on the cooling system and maybe get some almost "free" solar pool heating and/or hot water co-generation action to boot.

By tng on 5/18/2011 11:25:10 AM , Rating: 3
Put a heat exchanger on the cooling system and maybe get some almost "free" solar pool heating and/or hot water co-generation action to boot.
This is a problem for solar as you probably know. As the temperature goes up, the efficiency of the cell goes down.

There are commercial products out there now that combine water cooling and mounts for solar cells. I have a friend that is going to do just that, install solar cell units combined with cooling via water that circulates to his pool.

By Adul on 5/17/2011 10:13:41 PM , Rating: 2
At least we are seeing stuff come out and sooner or later one of or a combination of those breakthroughs will get us where we need to go.

By RedemptionAD on 5/18/2011 6:27:53 AM , Rating: 4
Current panels are 5-18% efficient so with this it looks like it will bring that up to 22.5-81% efficient at best, so assuming that most will be about 50% it would seem like this could be very effective and would make solar an actual cost winning supplemental form of energy. The current highest performing mass production panels are 13W/ft so a 4.5 fold increase would make that 58.5W/ft. Another benefit to this new tech is also the ability to produce some power at night time via the infrared spectrum. If it works, it could be the key to cost effective solar.

3 years ago...
By axeman1957 on 5/18/2011 11:51:29 AM , Rating: 3
"We shipped it on Saturday. Then on Sunday, we rested." -- Steve Jobs on the iPad launch

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