Hairy Solar Panels Could Result From Nanowire Breakthrough

Solar panels are constantly improving and breaking records. We often hear about new exotic materials and strange shapes, but this could be the weirdest announcement yet: Researchers at McMaster University (coolest name ever) have succeeded in 'growing' light-absorbing nanowires made of high-performance photovoltaic materials on carbon-nanotube fabric. The nanowires are made from exotic materials like gallium arsenide, indium gallium phosphide, etc, and they can absorb more energy from the sun than silicon, allowing the creation of both efficient and flexible solar panels .

The aim is to produce flexible, affordable solar cells composed of Group III-V nanowires that, within five years, will achieve a conversion efficiency of 20 percent. Longer term, he says, it's theoretically possible to achieve 40 percent efficiency, given the superior ability of such materials to absorb energy from sunlight and the light-trapping nature of nanowire structures. By comparison, current thin-film technologies offer efficiencies of between 6 and 9 percent.

Wow. Up to 40% for flexible panels!

But if it is known that the exotic materials used here are more efficient than silicon at converting light into electricity, why aren't they already used? Cost. That's the beauty of the nanowire approach; Each nanowire is 10 to 100 nanometers wide and up to five microns long, so very little pricey metal is used, keeping material costs down. Yet because of their shape, they absorb light quite well.

The research team, led by Ray LaPierre, a professor in the university's engineering physics department, has been given three years to achieve its goals--backed by about $600,000 from the Ontario government and private-sector research partner Cleanfield Energy, a Toronto-area developer of wind and solar technologies.

Best of luck to them!

::Flexible, Nanowire Solar Cells

See also: ::New Solar Panels Produced at Less Than $1 Per Watt, ::40% Efficient Solar Cells: They Are Being Used Back On Earth, ::Holographic Solar: New Method of Concentrating Sunlight Could Be Cheaper, ::Screen-Printed Solar Cells Come in a Variety of Colors and Patterns, Ideal for Building
Update: If you are interested in solar power, also check out 15 Photovoltaics Solar Power Innovations You Must See.

Tags: Canada | Energy | Technology

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