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Super Thin-Film Solar Cells Could Generate 10 Times the Power

Light's behavior at very small scales pushes limits of solar power upward.

1 min read
Super Thin-Film Solar Cells Could Generate 10 Times the Power

By shrinking the thickness of solar cells down toward the nano-scale, researchers at Stanford University think that energy outputs could grow by huge amounts. Such changes might eventually make solar power far more competitive with cheaper fossil fuel-based energy sources.

The concept of light-trapping has been played with for decades as a way of keeping a photon within the confines of a solar cell for longer periods of time, but there has always been upper limits of what energy the technique can wring from incoming light. By reducing the thickness of the cell to far less than the actual wavelength of light, though, appears to have a dramatic effect.

According to a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the ultrathin-film cells could improve on the macro-scale limits by as much as 12-fold.

"The amount of benefit of nanoscale confinement we have shown here really is surprising," said Zongfu Yu, a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford, in a press release. "Overcoming the conventional limit opens a new door to designing highly efficient solar cells."

Yu and colleagues sandwiched the solar film between layers that act to keep light trapped for longer periods of time, increasing the chances that a photon will be absorbed. The technology is probably a ways off from commercial deployment, but it joins a growing array of new materials and methods that might soon dramatically increase solar power's potential.

(Image via Stanford University)

The Conversation (0)
This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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