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Could new cell boost efficiency of solar panels?

12th Mar 2012

Scientists are always in search of ways to make solar power more effective, which in many cases involves developing new types of cells to improve efficiency.

The latest group to attempt this feat is a team of scientists from Perdue University in the US, who are combining nanotechnology with natural materials for their new type of cell.

As a result, they envisage the production process to become much cheaper, therefore enabling solar power to become a major player in energy production.

Chemical engineering professor Rakesh Agrawal said he and his team are aiming to make the cells as inexpensive as possible by manufacturing them from copper zinc tin sulphide.

This is then synthesised into nanocrystals, which are then able to absorb sunlight, reports Journal and Courier.

The formula takes an ink-like form, meaning it can be applied to the surface of specially-coated glass before the cells are ready for use.

Erik Sheets, a graduate student working in Mr Agrawal's lab said: "It is way cheaper. Most of the market right now is silicon solar cell, and it is really expensive and uses a high-energy process.

"But for what we do, to coat it and make it, it is very cheap. We can do the entire process here."

Mr Agrawal noted that in order for solar power to become competitive with other energy sources, it must be available at a cost of 50 cents per peak watt of electricity.

At present, the solar cells developed at Perdue University measure in an inch square and are able to achieve 8.4 per cent efficient use of energy from the sun.

Graduate student Nathan Carter predicted that solar will become a dominant part of the energy economy in the future, with countries moving away from oil and other power sources.

"It is going to be a much more cooperative effort between solar, wind, natural gas, biomass. But I think solar has the highest potential among any renewable energy," he commented.

Last month, researchers from the Swinburne University of Technology joined forces with Suntech Power Holdings to develop the most efficient broadband nanoplasmic solar cells in the world.

Published in Nano Letters, the paper revealed how the thin film solar cells have an absolute efficiency of 8.1 per cent, as the nanoparticles have an uneven surface that scatters light further into a broadband wavelength range.

Posted by Mike Peacock


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