MIT claims success with carbon solar cell

26th Jun 2012

Solar power cells are growing in popularity as a means of generating energy, but this is not to say that they are perfect in terms of efficiency.

As a result, scientists from all over the world are dedicating their time to tinkering with the cells to see where any improvements can be made.

After all, as a consumer you like to know that if you've gone through the effort of installing solar panels that it has all been worthwhile, right?

This time it's the turn of scientists from MIT, who have shunned the usual silicon cells in favour of all-carbon nanotube versions, which should be more effective at capturing infrared light.

Without getting into all the technical nitty gritty, around 40 per cent of the solar energy reaching the Earth's surface lies within the infrared area of the spectrum, therefore making it extremely valuable to solar panel manufacturers.

The team even believes there is potential for the cells to be overlaid on conventional materials, which would create a device capable of harnessing more of the sun's energy than ever thought possible.

Michael Arnold, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said that the discovery has proved very promising for the future of solar power.

He explained: "Carbon nanotubes offer tantalizing possibilities for increasing the efficiency of solar cells and are kind of like photovoltaic polymers on steroids."

"[This work] is exciting because it demonstrates photovoltaic power conversion using an active layer that is entirely made from carbon."

As with many research projects, this is still very much a work in progress – experts still need to think carefully about the exact shape and thickness of the layers that contain the solar cells before releasing them into the big wide world.

One thing the experts have found, however, is that the cells only need relatively small amounts of highly purified carbon, therefore making the finished product extremely lightweight.

This could mean that solar panels of the future are much quicker and easier to install and are able to cover a greater area without large volumes of materials.

The solar power landscape is always changing – who knows what scientists will come up with next!

Over recent months we've seen everything from bendy solar panels based on the structure of leaves to those that can float on water…the opportunities really are endless.

Posted by Mike Peacock


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