Solar Cells that Work Underground?

Posted on December 1, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , |

Treehugger reports on 3-D solar cell technology developed at Georgia Insitute of Technology.

Here’s Treehugger’s explanation of the technology:

“Using optical fibers common to the telecommunications industry, researchers seeded them with zinc oxide nanostructures–much like the white stuff found on a lifeguard nose. Those nanostructures were then coated with a dye-sensitized material that converts light into electricity. The electricity is then captured using a liquid electrolyte surrounding the nanostructures.”

One of the cool things about this development is that the fibers can be placed underground, and still generate electricity as long as the tip is exposed to sunlight. This provides much more flexibility in where to install these cells, because the fiber is only about the width of a human hair and can be integrated into building design. Because the light bounces back once it reaches the end of the fiber, the chances of absorbption are actually doubled. A 10 centimeter fiber produces about .5 volts of electricity and the fibers can be cut into various lengths.

So far the efficiency of these new cells is only about 3% and the goal is to increase this to 8% in the near future. This target is still less then the 12% efficiency of silicon PV cells which are common in rooftop installations. Still, the advantage of these cells, along with other dye-sentisized versions, is that they are much cheaper to produce and require much less heat. As ABC Science puts it,

“Efficiency can take a backseat to ease of production. Conventional solar cells with the highest efficiencies are generally expensive to produce, require temperatures of several hundred degrees, and can be damaged relatively easily by rocks or hail.”

Other added benefits of the 3-D cells include their dynamic design potential and the fact that they are more 6-times more efficient than other dye-sensitized cells because of the ability of the light to bounce back for added absorption.

Any way we can figure out how to harness the tremendous power of the sun as directly as possibly is certainly a step forward and this new technology may help integrate solar power to meet more of of energy needs.

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