3-04-2013 Nano Technology Increases Solar Panel Efficiency
Today’s solar panels are able to capture about 20 percent of the sun’s energy and convert it into usable electricity, but thanks to a new fabrication technique, engineers at UConn have developed technology that could allow solar panels to reach 70 percent efficiency.
The nano technology, which causes the dramatic increase in solar efficiency, has been theoretical for a while but difficulties in fabricating the nano solar panels has slowed development and testing of the new panels. Engineering professor Brian Willis of UConn has invented a new way of manufacturing solar panels called atomic layer deposition (ALD) which can create nano-sized optical rectifying antennas to focus solar energy.
Solar efficiency has been a major factor limiting the clean technology from competing with fossil fuels. The nano-sized optical rectifying antennas are able to capture a broader band of the light spectrum, including the visible light spectrum which has been impossible until now. By capturing a broader spectrum of light, the new solar panels are more efficient and more able to compete with fossil fuels.
“We’ve already made a first version of the device,” says Willis. “Now we’re looking for ways to modify the rectenna so it tunes into frequencies better. I compare it to the days when televisions relied on rabbit ear antennas for reception. Everything was a static blur until you moved the antenna around and saw the ghost of an image. Then you kept moving it around until the image was clearer. That’s what we’re looking for, that ghost of an image. Once we have that, we can work on making it more robust and repeatable.”
Willis and his team have received a grant from the Federal Government to continue researching ways to manufacture these new solar panels more effectively. “This new technology could get us over the hump and make solar energy cost-competitive with fossil fuels,” says Willis. “This is brand new technology, a whole new train of thought.”