Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Solar Panels with 90% Efficiency - Maybe!

It could be 5 -10 years away for commercial use, but with conversion efficiency of 90% it does sound impressive.

A new concept, so far restricted to lab scale, that could supplant traditional photovoltaics has been announced. The present photovoltaic systems commonly have efficiencies of around 20% and lower in warm climates.

Some fuel oxide fuel cells have around 85% efficiency of energy conversion, which is very high, but they rely on gas as a fuel source [ see - BluGen systems]. An efficiency of 90% would be stunning for a solar cell.

Read more below.

AN associate professor in the University of Missouri (MU) Chemical Engineering Department is developing a flexible solar sheet with more than 90 percent efficiency.

If the technology comes good, it could revolutionise the solar energy industry, which is currently at around 20 percent efficiency with production-level photovoltaics. Scientists working in laboratories have thus far managed up to 25 percent efficiency.

According to Patrick Pinhero, the new technology does not utilise the traditional photovoltaic methods of solar collection, due to its inefficiency and failure to capture much of the available solar electromagnetic spectrum.

The device is a thin, mouldable sheet of small antennas called nantenna. These nantenna are currently used to harvest the heat from industrial processes in an energy harvesting application. Pinhero hopes to extend the concept to a direct solar-facing nantenna device which can collect solar irradiation in the near infrared and optical regions of the solar spectrum.

Working with his former team at the Idaho National Laboratory and Garrett Moddel, an electrical engineering professor at the University of Colorado, Pinhero and his team have now developed a way to extract electricity from the collected heat and sunlight using special high-speed electrical circuitry. The team also partnered with Dennis Slafer of MicroContinuum to port the laboratory bench-scale technologies into manufacturable devices that can be inexpensively mass-produced.

The team believes it will have inexpensive prototypes for consumers within five years. As part of a rollout plan, the team is securing funding from the U.S. Department of Energy and private investors.

The second phase features an energy-harvesting device for existing industrial infrastructure, including heat-process factories and solar farms.

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