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New Solar Tech Even Works at Night

  1. Feb 1, 2008 #1
    A new solar technology based on tiny nano-sized antennae is capable of harvesting energy with 80% efficiency, as opposed to the 10-20% seen on commercial solar panels today. But if that isn't amazing enough for you, these new panels can even harvest energy at night, by absorbing light from the infrared region of the spectrum, which continues to residually radiate during nighttime. And even better still is that solar panels based on this technology could be manufactured even more cheaply than existing silicon-based solar panels today. Now these are innovations that could radically transform the world, allowing anyone to generate power 24/7 locally onsite, without even being connected to a power transmission grid. Disruptive technologies like this kind of remind me of the invention of the cellphone.

    http://www.groovygreen.com/groove/?p=2385

    http://www.inl.gov/featurestories/2007-12-17.shtml

    http://www.gizmag.com/researchers-developing-solar-technology-that-works-at-night/8574/
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 1, 2008 #2
    I wonder why the antennae are square? Is it because they'd get better packing efficiency than if they were round? I just don't see what's innately square about light hitting a surface. If anything, round shapes would pick up the lightwaves even more efficiently.
     
  4. Feb 2, 2008 #3

    russ_watters

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    Staff: Mentor

    We see claims of a revolutionary new solar panel about once a month here. I'll believe it when I see it in action.
     
  5. Feb 2, 2008 #4
    Aww, cmon Russ, don't look at the claims -- look into the physics behind them. That's what counts -- and the cost, of course.

    I like this idea, and would like to see it face the marketplace as the true test of its worth -- or lack of it.

    The key roadblock is in being able to convert the antenna resonance oscillations into steady current. They're working on this by trying to come up with nano-components such as capacitors or diodes/rectifiers to attach to each antenna.

    Once they get that out of the way, then it could be clear sailing.

    But what a novel way of harvesting light -- with wave mechanics, as opposed to quantum physics.
     
  6. Feb 3, 2008 #5
    That's pretty cool stuff. However, what you are talking about as "getting that out of the way" is the whole process of getting useful electricity out of the material.

    After that, the sheet materials will be more expensive of course, and exhibit different efficiency. And I wonder how much of the convertible energy is incident on the material in the first place (relative to convertible sunlight)?
     
  7. Feb 3, 2008 #6
    So you're saying that the surface area of these antennae is significantly less than that of the panel's overall surface. Yeah, I was noticing that too, but it seems like the higher efficiency and the nighttime absorption of infrared would make up for that. A higher packing efficiency would help too, making more efficient use of the surface area of the panel.

    Conceivably, the etching of the diodes/rectifiers/capacitors for tapping the electrical energy could be done on a lower layer, with the antennae residing in an additional layer on top.

    Ultimately, the worth of this thing would be measured in the cost per watt, and that's what the market will decide on.
     
  8. Feb 3, 2008 #7
    Those are two good points that I was not thinking about! I was actually wondering if there would be a lot lower W/m2 because the frequency is somewhere in the infrared I think (I didn't try to figure it out from the article). Certainly the incident energy must be lower in the evening, relative to direct solar radiation.

    My point is that even though the new technology is ~80% efficient at capturing the energy at its particular frequency, there may be much less energy there to start with. But like you said, $/W is the real metric.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 4, 2012
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