One day, cities and hopefully everything else will be powered by renewable resources like wind and solar. To do that, though, we will need to continue to improve on our renewable tech, like creating solar panels that can absorb solar energy in many different levels of sunlight. A new development out of England may have done just that.
Scientists from the University of Surrey and Imperial College London made an ultrathin solar panel that’s just one micrometer thick but has 25 percent more energy absorption than other panels of its size. For reference, one millimeter is made up of 1000 micrometers.
Looking at nature for solutions
When they think about optimizing solar efficiency, most people wouldn’t think to make the panel, well, bumpier. This did, however, turn out to be just the trick. The record-breaking new design drew inspiration from butterfly wings and birds’ eyes to draw light from every available angle, making it textured and a receptive surface to light coming from different angles.
“One of the challenges of working with silicon is that nearly a third of light bounces straight off it without being absorbed and the energy harnessed,” said Marian Florescu from the University of Surrey’s Advanced Technology Institute (ATI). “A textured layer across the silicon helps tackle this and our disordered, yet hyperuniform, honeycomb design is particularly successful.”
Potential applications for such high solar efficiency include fields like space technology, where photovoltaics could be used for sustainable power sources. That said, areas with little or limited sunlight could also benefit greatly from the new design. Plus, this design can help lower the costs of efficient solar panels and further the transition towards renewables.
The material could be the “ultimate cost-effective, reliable, and environmentally friendly solution to harness solar power,” as said in the paper published in ACS Publications.
The next step is to find funding, business partners, and a plan to manufacture the ultrathin panels. Soon we could see honeycomb-like panels covering roofs in all climates.
Source Study: ACS Photonics — Over 65% Sunlight Absorption in a 1 μm Si Slab with Hyperuniform Texture | ACS Photonics