Three-Dimensional Design Leads to Better Solar Cells

Date: 21 September 2011
By borrowing a trick from optical-fiber technology, a startup makes cells that trap light to create more electricity.

A Santa Barbara, California, company called Solar3D plans to make silicon solar cells that are more efficient than conventional cells by borrowing the light-trapping concept behind optical-fiber technology. The company claims that its three-dimensional design will funnel light into silicon and keep it trapped—giving the material more time to convert it into electricity.

Silicon has a theoretical maximum light-to-electricity conversion efficiency of 29 percent, but panels on the market today are only 15 to 18 percent efficient. Solar3D does not have exact efficiency numbers for its design yet, but CEO Jim Nelson says, "We think it's going to approach silicon's theoretical efficiency. We won't get to 29 percent—nobody's going to get that high with silicon—but we're hoping to get as close as possible."

Solar3D's design will tackle two factors that bring down solar efficiency. First, 30 percent of the light hitting solar panels is reflected and lost. Second, many of the electrons created when light hits silicon are reabsorbed by the material before they reach the external circuit.

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600450 Three-Dimensional Design Leads to Better Solar Cells
Date: 21 September 2011

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