4 Comments

Summary:

MIT researchers have developed another interesting way to boost the efficiency of the typical silicon solar cell.

SunPower California solar ranch

Researchers at MIT have figured out a new technique to make a traditional silicon solar cell — the kind that makes up most solar panels on rooftops — more efficient. The scientists published the findings in Nature Nanotechnology this week.

The innovation embeds a two-layer device made of carbon nanotubes and photonic crystals between the solar cell and the sun’s light. The device absorbs the sun light, heats up, and emits light that has a specific wavelength that can be used efficiently by the adjacent solar cell. A typical silicon solar cell doesn’t use all of the wavelengths of sun light, and many go to waste.

Austin's 's Pecan Street Project. Photo courtesy of Pecan Street Inc.

Austin’s ‘s Pecan Street Project. Photo courtesy of Pecan Street Inc.

The MIT researchers say that with these types of designs, which use heat to boost efficiency, some solar cells in theory could one day produce an efficiency of over 80 percent. In comparison some of the highest efficient solar cells in mass production currently are in the low 20 percent range from SunPower. Alta Devices claims a solar cell that delivers 30 percent efficiency.

The innovation is currently just in the lab (and only developed at a 3.2 percent efficiency) and as we all know many things change in the journey from the lab to the factory. But the MIT researchers think they can push their tech to reach a 20 percent efficiency, which could deliver a commercial product.

Efficiency is very important for solar manufacturers because it’s one of the best ways for these companies to differentiate and sell a higher end product — the cells can convert more light, and more power is created with the same amount of panels. SunPower can sell its panels for more money than the lower commodity 10 percent conversion panels.

Other innovations that can boost efficiency for solar cells include tiny super conducting dots, photon recycling and epitaxial lift-off, and using optics to split spectrum.

  1. Not a product on the shelves means it’s not news.

    Share
    1. Like/Agree/^/Up

      Share
  2. Katie, please make a note in your diary to revisit this research after six months and give us a status update.

    Is there any researcher working on combining all the different approaches for efficiency enhancement like this one, tiny super conducting dots, photon recycling and epitaxial lift-off, and using optics to split spectrum? I have been reading about these ‘breakthroughs’ for the last five years, and the investors have invested hundreds of millions, if not billions in solar cell technologies, and yet even today, the bulk of the market of solar cells comprises those plain old cells invented decades ago. What happened to all those technologies? What’s the deal?

    Thanks.

    Share
  3. An upgrade worth working for. Could be a breakthrough.

    Share

Comments have been disabled for this post