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Posted Tue Mar 2 2010: from CalTech, via Technology Review:
Material Traps Light on the Cheap
A new photovoltaic material performs as well as the one found in today's best solar cells, but promises to be significantly cheaper. The material, created by researchers at Caltech, consists of a flexible array of light-absorbing silicon microwires and light-reflecting metal nanoparticles embedded in a polymer. Computational models suggest that the material could be used to make solar cells that would convert 15 to 20 percent of the energy in sunlight into electricity -- on par with existing high-performance silicon cells. But the material would require just 1 percent of the materials used today, potentially leading to a dramatic decrease in costs.... But the wires are treated with an antireflective coating and coated in a rubbery polymer mixed with highly reflective alumina nanoparticles. Once the polymer sets, the entire thing can be peeled off like a sticker. Over 90 percent of the resulting material is composed of the cheap polymer, and the template can be used again and again. "These materials are pliable, but they have the properties of a silicon wafer," says Atwater. When light hits the composite solar mats, it bounces around, reflecting off the alumina particles until it can be absorbed by a microwire.
[Read more stories about: efficiency increase, alternative energy, technological innovation]
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