Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Next Generation of Solar Cell

Conventional solar cells are expensive to produce and inefficient. They are produced with silicon and exotic materials which attempt to boost their effectiveness. In truth, the typical solar cell captures only about 20% of the potential solar energy and, obviously, are completely ineffective after the sun has set.

A group from the National Idaho Laboratory is attempting to change that. Their new solar cell design is made up of tiny spiraling antennas printed on a thin film. Each "nanoantenna" is about 1/25 the thickness of a human hair, and made up of common materials. The result is a thin, flexible and cheap solar cell that is 80% effective and can collect energy for hours after sunset.

The solar cells collect energy through resonance, the same way a television antenna picks up a signal. The difference is that the nanoantennae is designed on a scale to capture infrared waves. The key is that as the Earth heats up, it gives off infrared waves which can be collected by the antennae for several hours after sundown. Collecting energy from both the sun and the Earth is the key to its effectiveness.

The only hurdles that the group has left is perfecting the design of the cells and developing a way to convert the energy into a form that is usable. The energy produced by the solar cells is AC and fluctuates 10,000 billion times a second. This is much too often for typical appliances which run off of AC that fluctuates 60 times per second. The only perceivable way of collecting the energy is to develop a rectifier that can handle the fluctuations and turn it into DC which could be used to charge batteries.

Read more on the Idaho National Laboratory Web site.

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