Solar cell breakthrough achieves 90 percent efficiency at a fraction of the cost of current panels

Saturday, May 01, 2010 by: Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
Tags: solar cells, efficiency, health news

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(NaturalNews) Scientists from the California Institute of Technology (CIT) have developed a new solar cell technology that they say absorbs up to 96 percent of "incident" light. Experimental tests revealed that the new cells operate at around a 90 percent quantum efficiency rate. Because they are made of plastic, they could significantly reduce the overall cost of photovoltaic cells as well.

Solar cells have long been a favorite of people trying to reduce or eliminate their energy bills. Many businesses have incorporated the technology as well because it is clean, renewable, and helps to reduce costs. Yet throughout its history, the relatively expensive up-front costs of obtaining photovoltaic cells has deterred many from investing in the technology. Researchers hope that their breakthrough new technology will change that.

The new cells consist of tiny silicon wires that measure a mere 1 micron in diameter. These wires are embedded into plastic plates where they convert light into electricity at an exceptional rate of efficiency. Any light that is leftover bounces around inside the wire matrix until it finds another wire that can absorb it. When all is said and done, nearly all the light is captured and converted into electricity.

The beauty of the new cell technology is that only two percent of the cell is composed of semiconductors, which are the most expensive component. The other 98 percent is made from inexpensive plastic, which translates into significantly lower prices for consumers as opposed to former solar cell technologies.

Though roughly the same thickness as conventional solar cells, the new cells contain far less silicon. The team is currently working on expanding the voltage capacity and size of the cells in order to manufacture large, flexible sheets that can be manufactured inexpensively using "roll-to-roll" fabrication equipment.

The team has yet to release any side-by-side comparisons of the new cells versus the old cells, but as the technology is refined, researchers will likely conduct the necessary experiments to gain this data and make it available to the public.

Solar technology has been gaining popularity for years, especially as advancements have made adopting the technology more affordable. Solar energy generation is quickly becoming a viable, mainstream way of generating energy and helping people to eliminate their energy bills and live "off the grid". Some people have even been able to generate so much energy that they sell the extra back to their local energy companies.

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