Top Science Breakthroughs in 2008: Solar Energy

December 22 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: Beyond   Rating: 1

The Sun

To reach a point where our global economy can rely on solar driven energy production, we need to continue making major breakthroughs in fundamantal science.

We still know relatively little about the fundamentals of photosynthesis and how we might replicate the process in materials used to turn energy from the sun into 'clean electrons and molecules'.

Sunlight can be used to capture photons for heat (solar thermal), electricity (photovoltaics) or direct hydrogen production.  We are looking at ways of capturing solar energy in silicon and carbon based materials, and also using molecular machines inside of algae and bacteria.  We must also find a way to store solar energy efficiently and at a low cost.

List of 11 Solar Energy Breakthroughs in 2008

New solar material captures entire light spectrum

State University researchers have designed a new conductive plastic material that absorbs all the energy contained in sunlight, and loosens electrons in a way that makes them easier to capture.  Solar panels create electricity when entering light excites the atoms of the material knocking some of the electrons in those atoms loose. The team of chemists combined electrically conductive plastic with metals including molybdenum and titanium to create the hybrid material which could change how we look at solar-electron reactions.


Solar cell efficiency improved by 50% with anti-reflection coating (MIT Researchers)
MIT researchers are rethinking how light can be manipulated within solar cells.  They have applied an antireflection coating, a novel combination of multi-layered reflective coatings and a tightly spaced array of lines to the backs of ultrathin silicon films to boost the cells' output by as much as 50 percent.  [No official statement has been released on original vs improved efficiency level.]  


Solar energy breakthrough with 'near perfect' absorption of light
Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have discovered and demonstrated a new method for overcoming two major hurdles facing solar energy. By developing a new antireflective coating that boosts the amount of sunlight captured by solar panels and allows those panels to absorb the entire solar spectrum from nearly any angle, the research team has moved academia and industry closer to realizing high-efficiency, cost-effective solar power.


Minature solar cells smaller than 12 point font
University of South Florida researchers have developed the tiniest solar cells ever built. The solar cells provide power to the team’s microeletromechanical system (MEMS) used to detect chemicals in lakes. The sensing device includes 20 tiny solar cells each about a quarter the size of a lowercase “o” in a standard 12-point font.


Record efficiencies around low cost solar cells
Researchers have demonstrated the highest efficiency to date of a lower cost method of converting sunlight into electricity patterned around photosynthesis.


U.S. scientists claim world record in solar cell efficiency
US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) researchers claimed a new world record in solar cell efficiency: 40.8% , which is more than twice as much as average solar cells can achieve today.

Researchers develop hybrid solar materials with nanoparticles and nanotubes
Research teams from Spain’s IMDEA Nanoscience and the University of Hamburg have developed a hybrid material using nanoparticles (quantum dots) and carbon nanotubes in an effort to create more efficient light emitting diodes and solar cells.

Flexible nanoantenna arrays capture abundant solar energy
US researchers devised an inexpensive way to produce plastic sheets containing billions of nanoantennas that collect heat energy generated by the sun and other sources.


19.9%: New Thin Film Solar Efficiency Record
US National Renewable Energy Laboratory created thin film solar panels with a 19.9 percent efficiency, a new world record (for thin film solar).

Energetic Nanoparticles Swing Sunlight Into Electricity
Swiss researchers have creates materials that exploit electrons in nanoparticles of noble metal oscillate together apace with the frequency of the light.

New Material Absorbs Light Completely And Generates Electricity
Duke University and Boston College researchers have created a metamaterial that absorbs all the light that enters.



Image Credit CarlitosWay85 Flickr CC License


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