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Clean Power rainbow

Published on October 19th, 2008 | by Andrew Williams

37

New Solar Power Material Can Capture Every Color of the Rainbow

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October 19th, 2008 by
 

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Scientists have created a new material that could dramatically increase the efficiency of solar cells, by literally capturing every color of the rainbow.

Whereas other materials only catch a small range of light frequencies, and therefore only a small fraction of the potential energy, the new invention is capable of absorbing all the energy contained in sunlight. According to team leader, Prof. Malcolm Chisolm, “There are other such hybrids out there, but the advantage of our material is that we can cover the entire range of the solar spectrum.

The discovery, made by an elite team at Ohio State University, opens the door to the development of a new generation of hyper-efficient solar cells. Although at this point the material is said to be some years from commercial development, the university has enough confidence in its potential to commit a large slice of its $100 million ‘high impact’ research budget to the research team over the next five years.

Such long-term investment lends a great deal of credibility to the project, and is likely to increase the chances of the invention moving from the laboratory towards commercial development.

Image Credit – Sylvar via flickr.com on a Creative Commons license

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About the Author

is a writer and freelance journalist specialising in sustainability and green issues. He lives in Cardiff, Wales.



  • Pingback: Finally! A Low Cost Solar Panel that Can See in the Dark - CleanTechnica

  • mike zuck

    If Photovoltaic solar panels were 100% effecient then there would be no heat, because all of the suns energey would be converted in electricity. This is what Albert Einstein called “the Conservation of Energy.” A consequence of this law is that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, it can only be transformed from one state to another. Remember his famouse formula E=Mc2? Which meens what goes in must equal what comes out.

  • mike zuck

    If Photovoltaic solar panels were 100% effecient then there would be no heat, because all of the suns energey would be converted in electricity. This is what Albert Einstein called “the Conservation of Energy.” A consequence of this law is that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, it can only be transformed from one state to another. Remember his famouse formula E=Mc2? Which meens what goes in must equal what comes out.

  • mike zuck

    Color is made up of different wavelenths of energy, these wavelenths are so defined that we can tell the tempeture of a fire just by its color, such as red-hot or white-hot, how hot is the yellow or blue? If we can utilize different wavelenths of ENERGY which are in the form of color then we can make PHOTOVOLTAIC SOLAR CELLS (aka,solar panels) more efficient. And make no mistake, we are dealing with photons of light from the sun to make electricity, not heat, hence the correct term PHOTOVOLTAIC. If all you want is hot water then black is just fine.

  • mike zuck

    Color is made up of different wavelenths of energy, these wavelenths are so defined that we can tell the tempeture of a fire just by its color, such as red-hot or white-hot, how hot is the yellow or blue? If we can utilize different wavelenths of ENERGY which are in the form of color then we can make PHOTOVOLTAIC SOLAR CELLS (aka,solar panels) more efficient. And make no mistake, we are dealing with photons of light from the sun to make electricity, not heat, hence the correct term PHOTOVOLTAIC. If all you want is hot water then black is just fine.

  • mike zuck

    Our world is full of integrated circuits. You find several of them in computers. For example, most people have probably heard about the microprocessor. The microprocessor is an integrated circuit that processes all information in the computer. It keeps track of what keys are pressed and if the mouse has been moved. It counts numbers and runs programs, games and the operating system. Integrated circuits are also found in almost every modern electrical device such as cars, television sets, CD players, cellular phones, etc.

  • mike zuck

    Our world is full of integrated circuits. You find several of them in computers. For example, most people have probably heard about the microprocessor. The microprocessor is an integrated circuit that processes all information in the computer. It keeps track of what keys are pressed and if the mouse has been moved. It counts numbers and runs programs, games and the operating system. Integrated circuits are also found in almost every modern electrical device such as cars, television sets, CD players, cellular phones, etc.

  • Anne

    stinky,

    “Unfortunately… I am sick of this… this kind of article, this kind of leap forward. Maybe it exists, maybe it doesn’t, but it is always ten years away and we will NEVER SEE IT.”

    You’re right. When some lab dweller said he discovered what he called the “integrated circuit”, it was all over the press. It was touted as the biggest discovery since the transistor and promised cheap radios and t.v.’s and perhaps could even make a household computer feasible. How thrilling, then we could calculate missile trajectories in the attic.

    Well were are those wonderful “integrated circuits” today? WE NEVER SAW IT.

  • Anne

    stinky,

    “Unfortunately… I am sick of this… this kind of article, this kind of leap forward. Maybe it exists, maybe it doesn’t, but it is always ten years away and we will NEVER SEE IT.”

    You’re right. When some lab dweller said he discovered what he called the “integrated circuit”, it was all over the press. It was touted as the biggest discovery since the transistor and promised cheap radios and t.v.’s and perhaps could even make a household computer feasible. How thrilling, then we could calculate missile trajectories in the attic.

    Well were are those wonderful “integrated circuits” today? WE NEVER SAW IT.

  • Tom

    Different “colours” of light have different colour temperatures. Like Raymond stated, different frequencies. Certain frequencies allow for a gearter harevest of light energy, in the process of turning that energy into electricity i.e. photovoltaic technology.

    Saying that Black absorbs more energy may be true with black holes. Solar pannels do not contian quantum singularities.

    Absorbing sun energy as heat to warm a liquid to run a turbine is also a different process. I’m certain the article is referring to advancements in photovoltaic tech.

  • Tom

    Different “colours” of light have different colour temperatures. Like Raymond stated, different frequencies. Certain frequencies allow for a gearter harevest of light energy, in the process of turning that energy into electricity i.e. photovoltaic technology.

    Saying that Black absorbs more energy may be true with black holes. Solar pannels do not contian quantum singularities.

    Absorbing sun energy as heat to warm a liquid to run a turbine is also a different process. I’m certain the article is referring to advancements in photovoltaic tech.

  • http://www.leatherluggage.net stinky

    This has nothing to do with the cells being black or white. What they are referring to is the wavelength of light that penetrates the layers of the cell and is actually used to knock an electron off the anode. Right now, those wavelengths are not that large.

    Having a cell that allows more light frequencies to penetrate and be used is a huge leap forward.

    Unfortunately… I am sick of this… this kind of article, this kind of leap forward. Maybe it exists, maybe it doesn’t, but it is always ten years away and we will NEVER SEE IT.

  • http://www.leatherluggage.net stinky

    This has nothing to do with the cells being black or white. What they are referring to is the wavelength of light that penetrates the layers of the cell and is actually used to knock an electron off the anode. Right now, those wavelengths are not that large.

    Having a cell that allows more light frequencies to penetrate and be used is a huge leap forward.

    Unfortunately… I am sick of this… this kind of article, this kind of leap forward. Maybe it exists, maybe it doesn’t, but it is always ten years away and we will NEVER SEE IT.

  • Tommy

    Perhaps they have found a way to use UV, infrared and the entire light spectrum? The entire electromagnetic spectrum?

  • Tommy

    Perhaps they have found a way to use UV, infrared and the entire light spectrum? The entire electromagnetic spectrum?

  • hexyl

    There is a slight mis-consception. It is true that something black is reflecting no light. In the case of black solar cells even though no light is being reflected not all the light is being turned into electricity.

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_cell

    Since light is a spectrum, different portions have different wavelengths and energy levels. The nature of how a solar cell caputres the enegry means that for a given doping only certain wavelengths can be converted to free electron/holes. All the other wavelengths pass through the cell without generating free electrons or convert to electrons but with a large amount of waste heat. You can layer exotic materials on a solar cell to capture different bandwidths and make the soalr cell more efficient (multi junction solar cells).

    The article says that “Whereas other materials only catch a small range of light frequencies, and therefore only a small fraction of the potential energy, the new invention is capable of absorbing all the energy contained in sunlight.” “There are other such hybrids out there, but the advantage of our material is that we can cover the entire range of the solar spectrum.”

    Seems to claim that they have a super material which has a bandgap which is large enough to generate electrons from all wavelengths present in sunlight. It could just be a new type of multi junction. No specifics or physics are given.

    How expensive is the new material? What kind of processes do they need to make it? These details and more will determine if it can be economical for the average joe.

  • hexyl

    There is a slight mis-consception. It is true that something black is reflecting no light. In the case of black solar cells even though no light is being reflected not all the light is being turned into electricity.

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_cell

    Since light is a spectrum, different portions have different wavelengths and energy levels. The nature of how a solar cell caputres the enegry means that for a given doping only certain wavelengths can be converted to free electron/holes. All the other wavelengths pass through the cell without generating free electrons or convert to electrons but with a large amount of waste heat. You can layer exotic materials on a solar cell to capture different bandwidths and make the soalr cell more efficient (multi junction solar cells).

    The article says that “Whereas other materials only catch a small range of light frequencies, and therefore only a small fraction of the potential energy, the new invention is capable of absorbing all the energy contained in sunlight.” “There are other such hybrids out there, but the advantage of our material is that we can cover the entire range of the solar spectrum.”

    Seems to claim that they have a super material which has a bandgap which is large enough to generate electrons from all wavelengths present in sunlight. It could just be a new type of multi junction. No specifics or physics are given.

    How expensive is the new material? What kind of processes do they need to make it? These details and more will determine if it can be economical for the average joe.

  • m

    I agree with “That Guy” that this material is probably a darker black therefore absorbing more light. There’s still the problem of excessive heat with a darker material that has to be dealt with. Sort of like when you compare wearing a black shirt vs a white shirt on a sunny day.

  • m

    I agree with “That Guy” that this material is probably a darker black therefore absorbing more light. There’s still the problem of excessive heat with a darker material that has to be dealt with. Sort of like when you compare wearing a black shirt vs a white shirt on a sunny day.

  • That guy

    Raymond….Devin’s right. White light is indeed all colours, but you “see” what colour(s) is/are not absorbed, because it reflects off the object and reaches your eye. Black objects are absorbing all light, white objects absorb no light (leaving every colour).

    For those stressing about the rainbow – ignore the picture, it’s misleading. I’m guessing the new material is merely a darker black than the usual.

    Geneviève – the current solar cells are already enough to power houses or cars. If you install a reasonable number of solar panels on your house, you can gain a surplus of energy, and in Australia at least, the power companies will pay you for the surplus you create.

  • That guy

    Raymond….Devin’s right. White light is indeed all colours, but you “see” what colour(s) is/are not absorbed, because it reflects off the object and reaches your eye. Black objects are absorbing all light, white objects absorb no light (leaving every colour).

    For those stressing about the rainbow – ignore the picture, it’s misleading. I’m guessing the new material is merely a darker black than the usual.

    Geneviève – the current solar cells are already enough to power houses or cars. If you install a reasonable number of solar panels on your house, you can gain a surplus of energy, and in Australia at least, the power companies will pay you for the surplus you create.

  • flobby

    @Raymond Heston

    Black is correct. Something is black when light is shining on it because no colour is reflected back from the surface.

  • flobby

    @Raymond Heston

    Black is correct. Something is black when light is shining on it because no colour is reflected back from the surface.

  • Raymond Heston

    Devin…

    You confuse light with pigment… Frequencies (colors) of light mix together to form ‘white’ light not black.

  • Raymond Heston

    Devin…

    You confuse light with pigment… Frequencies (colors) of light mix together to form ‘white’ light not black.

  • Geneviève

    I think it would be wonderful if the results of this research produced solar cells powerful enough to provide large amounts of power for homes, cars, etc. We could gradually lessen our dependence on fossil fuels and switch over to more green sources of energy.

  • Geneviève

    I think it would be wonderful if the results of this research produced solar cells powerful enough to provide large amounts of power for homes, cars, etc. We could gradually lessen our dependence on fossil fuels and switch over to more green sources of energy.

  • Devin

    “literally catching every every color of the rainbow.”

    You mean… it’s black?

  • Devin

    “literally catching every every color of the rainbow.”

    You mean… it’s black?

  • Graham

    So 7 colors gives it 7 times more output.

  • Graham

    So 7 colors gives it 7 times more output.

  • brian

    Wasn’t this a discovery made by a 13 year old a couple weeks back?

  • brian

    Wasn’t this a discovery made by a 13 year old a couple weeks back?

  • alan sherman

    These articles are awesome and Im all for clean energy, but they seem to be saying “Energy crisis solved!” when there should be a disclaimer from a scientist about why its still impractical. Every time I research breakthroughs on this site theres always a massive “yes, but…” that doesnt ever get covered here

  • alan sherman

    These articles are awesome and Im all for clean energy, but they seem to be saying “Energy crisis solved!” when there should be a disclaimer from a scientist about why its still impractical. Every time I research breakthroughs on this site theres always a massive “yes, but…” that doesnt ever get covered here

  • Ben

    ok anything black absorbs “all the energy contained in sunlight” and covers “the entire range of the solar spectrum” so what is so different and special about their thing they made… because it’s not those two things.

  • Ben

    ok anything black absorbs “all the energy contained in sunlight” and covers “the entire range of the solar spectrum” so what is so different and special about their thing they made… because it’s not those two things.

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