Two major breakthroughs in solar cell technology could significantly improve the way energy is recovered from the sun.
The two studies, published in Energy of nature and Nature Photonics, will transform efficiency and significantly reduce the cost of producing solar cells, scientists say.
The first breakthrough is to “upconvert” low-energy non-visible light into high-energy light in order to generate more electricity from the same amount of sunlight.
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Researchers at RMIT University and UNSW University in Australia and the University of Kentucky in the United States have found that oxygen can be used to transfer low-energy light into molecules that can be converted into electricity. .
“The sun’s energy is not just visible light. The spectrum is wide, including infrared light which gives us heat and ultraviolet light which can burn our skin, ”said Professor Tim Schmidt of UNSW Sydney.
“Most solar cells… are made from silicon, which cannot respond to less energetic light than near infrared. This means that parts of the light spectrum are unused by many of our current devices and technologies. ”
The technique involves using tiny semiconductors called quantum dots to absorb low-energy light and transform it into visible light to capture energy.
The second breakthrough uses a type of material called perovskites to create new generation solar modules that are more efficient and stable than current commercial silicon solar cells.
Perovskite-based solar cells are also cheaper to produce, yet flexible and light. So far, the main problem with the material is that it is difficult to scale up to create solar panels several meters in length.
“Scaling is very demanding,” said study co-author Dr. Luis Ono. “All material flaws become more pronounced, so you need high quality materials and better manufacturing techniques. “
A new approach uses multiple layers to prevent energy loss or the leakage of toxic chemicals during its degradation.
A 22.4 cm module has achieved an efficiency of 16.6% – a very high efficiency for a module of this size – and maintains a high level of performance even after 2000 hours of constant use.
The researchers now plan to test their techniques on larger solar modules, hoping to commercialize the technology in the future.