Clean Power

Published on August 11th, 2008 | by Ariel Schwartz

35

Nanoantenna Arrays Seen As Possible Solar Cell Replacement

August 11th, 2008 by  

sun

Traditional solar cells only use up to 20% of the visible light they collect, and more efficient solar cells are too expensive for mass production. Now researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Idaho Laboratory have figured out a way to capture solar energy on the cheap: plastic sheets filled with billions of nanoantennas.

The nanoantennas are made up of small gold squares or spirals set in polyethylene. Researchers believe that under the right conditions, the simulated nanoantennas could harvest up to 92% of energy at infrared wavelengths.

While traditional solar cells only use visible light, the nanoantennas use mid-infrared rays. This means that they can still collect energy after dark.

Eventually, researchers hope that the plastic sheets of nanoantennas will power everything from hybrid cars to iPods.

Of course, there is still plenty of research that needs to be done before nanoantennas can go into production—in fact, scientists still don’t know how to convert energy from the devices into electricity. But the nanoantenna research is an interesting preview to a more affordable solar future. For now, though, we’ll have to make do with traditional devices.

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About the Author

was formerly the editor of CleanTechnica and is a senior editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine, and more. A graduate of Vassar College, she has previously worked in publishing, organic farming, documentary film, and newspaper journalism. Her interests include permaculture, hiking, skiing, music, relocalization, and cob (the building material). She currently resides in San Francisco, CA.



  • Ramsey Frist

    If they succeed in getting this system to work think how strange things would be. Everything at temperatures over absolute zero emits some black body infrared radiation. In the winter just put some of these magic antennas outside in the snow and use the power to run an electric space heater in the house. It would usher in a new world with new physical laws. You would be able to use the same energy over an over, heat to electricity and back to heat after turning a motor or lighting a lamp.

    How did they ever get funding for such a boondoggle?

  • Ramsey Frist

    If they succeed in getting this system to work think how strange things would be. Everything at temperatures over absolute zero emits some black body infrared radiation. In the winter just put some of these magic antennas outside in the snow and use the power to run an electric space heater in the house. It would usher in a new world with new physical laws. You would be able to use the same energy over an over, heat to electricity and back to heat after turning a motor or lighting a lamp.

    How did they ever get funding for such a boondoggle?

  • Michael

    I bet this array could be made even more useful with a black quartz filter. The quartz turns UV and some visible light into IR. If it works, then there would be more IR to absorb. Now they just need to figure out how to utilize it.

  • Michael

    I bet this array could be made even more useful with a black quartz filter. The quartz turns UV and some visible light into IR. If it works, then there would be more IR to absorb. Now they just need to figure out how to utilize it.

  • Brad

    Efficiency isn’t important; cost is. If you have a device that’s only 10% efficient, but costs 1% as much to make per square meter as a 100% efficient device, you’re in business. The point of the nanoantennas is that they’re

    a) potentially WAY cheaper than traditional solar cells per unit area, and

    b) better for the environment, since they generally don’t require as many harmful chemicals to manufacture as most photovoltaics.

    Incidentally, the infrared antennas are only a stepping stone. There’s a lot of work being done on visible optical antennas as well. The efficiency/cost isn’t there yet, but it will be someday soon.

  • Brad

    Efficiency isn’t important; cost is. If you have a device that’s only 10% efficient, but costs 1% as much to make per square meter as a 100% efficient device, you’re in business. The point of the nanoantennas is that they’re

    a) potentially WAY cheaper than traditional solar cells per unit area, and

    b) better for the environment, since they generally don’t require as many harmful chemicals to manufacture as most photovoltaics.

    Incidentally, the infrared antennas are only a stepping stone. There’s a lot of work being done on visible optical antennas as well. The efficiency/cost isn’t there yet, but it will be someday soon.

  • Pingback: Nanoantennas: An Alternative to Solar Cells? « Solar Power Knowledge Project()

  • ED

    Here in the United States there is possibly the greatest wasted solar energy opportunity in the world

    if we installed a solar station in death Valley one-mile by 1 mile square would it not produce enough energy to run the entire United States and never have to burn another coal plant again.

    For the life of me I do not know why Bill Gates and some of the other billionaires cannot get together and get this done because land is super cheap in death Valley as well as an abundant amount of silken to make the solar panel with so why aren’t the billion-dollar companies investing in this opportunity.

  • ED

    Here in the United States there is possibly the greatest wasted solar energy opportunity in the world

    if we installed a solar station in death Valley one-mile by 1 mile square would it not produce enough energy to run the entire United States and never have to burn another coal plant again.

    For the life of me I do not know why Bill Gates and some of the other billionaires cannot get together and get this done because land is super cheap in death Valley as well as an abundant amount of silken to make the solar panel with so why aren’t the billion-dollar companies investing in this opportunity.

  • Mark

    Oh, Shawn. You silly, small minded person.

    To even suggest that ‘limiting C02’ would ‘hurt’ the economy is totally imaginary. My brother-in-law runs a wind tower manufacturing plant. My 2nd cousin is going to be an engineer, working on wind and solar energy production. My B-I-L is currently ADDING to the economy. My cousin will be doing so after he graduates.

    So, to blatantly lie like that instantly makes you part of the problem. And… whether you like it or not, Peak Oil is real. The economy is going to hurt after cheap plentiful oil runs out. Once it does, alternatives will be sought after.

    Shawn, who do you think will be making money after Peak Oil? Well, that would be anyone working in the alternative energy industries. You won’t be there. Nope. Not you. You’ll still be presenting your imaginary issues and your imagainary scenarios.

    You are quite silly. Quite.

  • Mark

    Oh, Shawn. You silly, small minded person.

    To even suggest that ‘limiting C02’ would ‘hurt’ the economy is totally imaginary. My brother-in-law runs a wind tower manufacturing plant. My 2nd cousin is going to be an engineer, working on wind and solar energy production. My B-I-L is currently ADDING to the economy. My cousin will be doing so after he graduates.

    So, to blatantly lie like that instantly makes you part of the problem. And… whether you like it or not, Peak Oil is real. The economy is going to hurt after cheap plentiful oil runs out. Once it does, alternatives will be sought after.

    Shawn, who do you think will be making money after Peak Oil? Well, that would be anyone working in the alternative energy industries. You won’t be there. Nope. Not you. You’ll still be presenting your imaginary issues and your imagainary scenarios.

    You are quite silly. Quite.

  • brandon

    @Shawn,

    Please do a bit of reading before you editorialize and rant about subjects that you clearly don’t understand. Nitrogen is NOT a Greenhouse gas. CO2 and Methane are two of the biggest offenders in the Greenhouse Gas category.

    Methane is roughly 20 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO2 is. To truly make an impact on global warming we really need to look at limiting Methane emissions more than CO2. Landfills, rotting biomass, and cattle do more damage to the atmosphere by releasing Methane than all of the automobiles in the world do by emitting CO2.

    How do we limit Methane emissions?… Gasification technologies can be used to convert garbage to fuels that can be used to heat buildings and power vehicles. Biomass can be converted to cellulosic Ethanol for cars. I don’t know how you get the cattle to quit farting though… Anyone got any ideas there? GasX maybe?

  • brandon

    @Shawn,

    Please do a bit of reading before you editorialize and rant about subjects that you clearly don’t understand. Nitrogen is NOT a Greenhouse gas. CO2 and Methane are two of the biggest offenders in the Greenhouse Gas category.

    Methane is roughly 20 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO2 is. To truly make an impact on global warming we really need to look at limiting Methane emissions more than CO2. Landfills, rotting biomass, and cattle do more damage to the atmosphere by releasing Methane than all of the automobiles in the world do by emitting CO2.

    How do we limit Methane emissions?… Gasification technologies can be used to convert garbage to fuels that can be used to heat buildings and power vehicles. Biomass can be converted to cellulosic Ethanol for cars. I don’t know how you get the cattle to quit farting though… Anyone got any ideas there? GasX maybe?

  • Dan

    Mostly useless.

    The correct solution is to use the more expensive solar cells and concentrate light onto them. I suggest a parabolic aluminum mirror.

    That’ll get you from 20% to 35% and come with a total cost of maybe $50/meter.

    Want more efficiency?

    Use a prism to split the light into colors and then use weird crap like this and you can probably get 80% efficiency on most of frequencies.

    Best,

    Dan

  • Dan

    Mostly useless.

    The correct solution is to use the more expensive solar cells and concentrate light onto them. I suggest a parabolic aluminum mirror.

    That’ll get you from 20% to 35% and come with a total cost of maybe $50/meter.

    Want more efficiency?

    Use a prism to split the light into colors and then use weird crap like this and you can probably get 80% efficiency on most of frequencies.

    Best,

    Dan

  • Ruggy

    @Uncle B

    Gore had 8 years in the Whitehouse to work his magic, but accomplished nothing other than to pass NAFTA, which substantially sidesteps decades of environmental legislation in the USA by sending the manufacturing to places without such laws. Thanks to NAFTA, Canadian 2-4-D which is cheaper, comes contaminated with 2-4-5-T, making it essentially Agent Orange which is being spread all over America’s lawns. It’s illegal to make brake pads with asbestos in America, but most of our cars have asbestos brakes which are made in Canada, and which we can’t refuse under NAFTA. I won’t even get into the Mexican environmental consequences… Those are too depressing, and well documented anyway.

  • Ruggy

    @Uncle B

    Gore had 8 years in the Whitehouse to work his magic, but accomplished nothing other than to pass NAFTA, which substantially sidesteps decades of environmental legislation in the USA by sending the manufacturing to places without such laws. Thanks to NAFTA, Canadian 2-4-D which is cheaper, comes contaminated with 2-4-5-T, making it essentially Agent Orange which is being spread all over America’s lawns. It’s illegal to make brake pads with asbestos in America, but most of our cars have asbestos brakes which are made in Canada, and which we can’t refuse under NAFTA. I won’t even get into the Mexican environmental consequences… Those are too depressing, and well documented anyway.

  • RY

    Guys, this only absorbs in the INFRARED. While it is efficient at those wavelengths, it doesn’t get any of the visible part of the spectrum. Anyone have stats on what percentage of the light that we receive from the sun is in the infrared?

  • RY

    Guys, this only absorbs in the INFRARED. While it is efficient at those wavelengths, it doesn’t get any of the visible part of the spectrum. Anyone have stats on what percentage of the light that we receive from the sun is in the infrared?

  • Wm

    “The next time you hear a blithering idiot spoiled brat, drunken, drug addicted, sociopath, rich Arabic saber dancing daddie’s boy oilman…”

    Anytime someone carries on with this kind of rhetoric, you can basically write anything they say off as political babble. Mature men and women have a political bent, but they do not have such a deep seated hatred for someone that they find it necessary to slander another when trying to make a non-political point.

  • Wm

    “The next time you hear a blithering idiot spoiled brat, drunken, drug addicted, sociopath, rich Arabic saber dancing daddie’s boy oilman…”

    Anytime someone carries on with this kind of rhetoric, you can basically write anything they say off as political babble. Mature men and women have a political bent, but they do not have such a deep seated hatred for someone that they find it necessary to slander another when trying to make a non-political point.

  • Pingback: nerdd.net | news and opinion()

  • green blog

    I think this could be seen as an answer to harvesting more of solar energy. Sounds great. I think if it’s workable, government agencies should consider giving incentive or subsides to homes and companies with to purchase these.s

  • Buddy Ebsen

    @Shawn – you are badly misinformed, about several things. First off, nitrogen is not a greenhouse gas, it in fact composes about 78% of our atmosphere.

    Please check Wikipedia for some quick facts. Then follow up with other sources. (Hint: look for scientific papers, not media rantings that do not disclose sources.)

    We (people, due to industrial processes and deforestation) have increased the concentration of CO2 by about 35%, what makes you think this is harmless?

    Finally, yes, eliminating CO2 emissions totally would not reduce the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere by any significant amount, it would simply stabilize it at current levels. I think the assumption is that we then need to scrub CO2 out of the atmosphere, and sequester it until we reach an acceptable level.

    Just because this is difficult does not mean we should not try. There is also no reason to assume this will hurt the economy, probably quite the reverse.

  • Buddy Ebsen

    @Shawn – you are badly misinformed, about several things. First off, nitrogen is not a greenhouse gas, it in fact composes about 78% of our atmosphere.

    Please check Wikipedia for some quick facts. Then follow up with other sources. (Hint: look for scientific papers, not media rantings that do not disclose sources.)

    We (people, due to industrial processes and deforestation) have increased the concentration of CO2 by about 35%, what makes you think this is harmless?

    Finally, yes, eliminating CO2 emissions totally would not reduce the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere by any significant amount, it would simply stabilize it at current levels. I think the assumption is that we then need to scrub CO2 out of the atmosphere, and sequester it until we reach an acceptable level.

    Just because this is difficult does not mean we should not try. There is also no reason to assume this will hurt the economy, probably quite the reverse.

  • green blog

    I think this could be seen as an answer to harvesting more of solar energy. Sounds great. I think if it’s workable, government agencies should consider giving incentive or subsides to homes and companies with to purchase these.s

  • Mr. Sinister

    Uncle B…

    Cheer up.

  • Mr. Sinister

    Uncle B…

    Cheer up.

  • Ariel Schwartz

    Thanks for the link, Tim. I hadn’t seen that before – good to know.

  • Tim

    This is potentially incredible technology. That efficiency rating is unbelievable, and the ability to harness solar energy at night would eliminate the need for a complicated energy storage system.

    One note though. I think that traditional solar, when using concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) schemes, can reach 40% efficiency (Cost-Effective Solar Energy Technology). Of course, that’s a whole heck of a lot less than 92%, but it is double the 20% mentioned here.

  • Tim

    This is potentially incredible technology. That efficiency rating is unbelievable, and the ability to harness solar energy at night would eliminate the need for a complicated energy storage system.

    One note though. I think that traditional solar, when using concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) schemes, can reach 40% efficiency (Cost-Effective Solar Energy Technology). Of course, that’s a whole heck of a lot less than 92%, but it is double the 20% mentioned here.

  • Shawn

    I like the direction that this could take us. Unfortunately, Al Gore lost any realistic chance of leading us in this direction when he cast his lot into the Global Warming/ Global Climate Change ring.

    He might be able to trick politicians into lowering carbon emissions, but that IS NOT THE POINT. Scientists don’t take Gore or global warming seriously because Carbon Dioxide only makes up 10% of Greenhouse gasses. Most of GG’s are nitrogen, which is outside of our control. Only 1% of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is human-contributed annually. Sure, that number might increase to 2% at some point, especially with China’s growth and India not far behind, but let’s just take a step back and look at what we Americans can do to combat Global Climate Change (which, by the way, we haven’t even scientifically established is EVEN REAL).

    You can limit United States carbon emissions, but in doing so, you are limiting its economy and growth. IF the ENTIRE WORLD were to COMPLETELY ELIMINATE CO2 emissions, you would reduce the total greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere by 0.01%. In other words, you are hurting your economy for no reason. Of course, the carbon emissions are harmful to people, smog in big cities and pollution into waterways is really nasty.

    THOSE are the areas we should be placing government regulartions. Current emission standards enforced by our government serve to 1.) make it seem like the “Greens” are doing something good but 2.) actually only hurting the economy.

    I am ALL FOR harnessing renewable resources and getting out of this harmful cycle of oil dependence. But PLEASE. If you even MENTION Al Gore’s name, your credibility takes a HUGE hit, because HE DOESN’T KNOW WHAT HE IS TALKING ABOUT. And anyone who thinks he does is MISINFORMED or worse.

    F*ck yes US Dept. of Energy. F*ck no, Al Gore.

  • Shawn

    I like the direction that this could take us. Unfortunately, Al Gore lost any realistic chance of leading us in this direction when he cast his lot into the Global Warming/ Global Climate Change ring.

    He might be able to trick politicians into lowering carbon emissions, but that IS NOT THE POINT. Scientists don’t take Gore or global warming seriously because Carbon Dioxide only makes up 10% of Greenhouse gasses. Most of GG’s are nitrogen, which is outside of our control. Only 1% of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is human-contributed annually. Sure, that number might increase to 2% at some point, especially with China’s growth and India not far behind, but let’s just take a step back and look at what we Americans can do to combat Global Climate Change (which, by the way, we haven’t even scientifically established is EVEN REAL).

    You can limit United States carbon emissions, but in doing so, you are limiting its economy and growth. IF the ENTIRE WORLD were to COMPLETELY ELIMINATE CO2 emissions, you would reduce the total greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere by 0.01%. In other words, you are hurting your economy for no reason. Of course, the carbon emissions are harmful to people, smog in big cities and pollution into waterways is really nasty.

    THOSE are the areas we should be placing government regulartions. Current emission standards enforced by our government serve to 1.) make it seem like the “Greens” are doing something good but 2.) actually only hurting the economy.

    I am ALL FOR harnessing renewable resources and getting out of this harmful cycle of oil dependence. But PLEASE. If you even MENTION Al Gore’s name, your credibility takes a HUGE hit, because HE DOESN’T KNOW WHAT HE IS TALKING ABOUT. And anyone who thinks he does is MISINFORMED or worse.

    F*ck yes US Dept. of Energy. F*ck no, Al Gore.

  • Uncle B

    Solar is the final answer to the energy crisis, and nano antennas will boost efficiency for certain and If the U.S. had chosen to be a moral people, and leaving Iraqi oil alone, and following Al Gore, decided to develop the South Western deserts, with the technology of the times – solar/thermal-molten sodium – electricity installations, for the same amount of money as that war cost, ($650 Billion), today, we would be tapping into the largest, renewable, sustainable, energy source the world has ever known. It would have paid every energy bill in the U.S.A. for maintenance fees only – FOREVER! It would be equivalent to an oil field that can NEVER run dry! Low cost electric power, and storeable hydrogen gasoline replacement from the electricity, for all!

    After the millions of murders, and $650 billions of dollars, borrowed from our children’s futures and pissed away, with thousands of our own and others maimed and disfigured for life, millions of families utterly destroyed, ours and theirs, we are no closer to Iraqi oil production than the Iraqis are!

    The next time you hear a blithering idiot spoiled brat, drunken, drug addicted, sociopath, rich Arabic saber dancing daddie’s boy oilman, stand at a microphone and threaten YOUR safety with someone ELSE’S weapons, remember what you lost America, remember, and weep! (also see http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=a-solar-grand-plan)

  • Uncle B

    Solar is the final answer to the energy crisis, and nano antennas will boost efficiency for certain and If the U.S. had chosen to be a moral people, and leaving Iraqi oil alone, and following Al Gore, decided to develop the South Western deserts, with the technology of the times – solar/thermal-molten sodium – electricity installations, for the same amount of money as that war cost, ($650 Billion), today, we would be tapping into the largest, renewable, sustainable, energy source the world has ever known. It would have paid every energy bill in the U.S.A. for maintenance fees only – FOREVER! It would be equivalent to an oil field that can NEVER run dry! Low cost electric power, and storeable hydrogen gasoline replacement from the electricity, for all!

    After the millions of murders, and $650 billions of dollars, borrowed from our children’s futures and pissed away, with thousands of our own and others maimed and disfigured for life, millions of families utterly destroyed, ours and theirs, we are no closer to Iraqi oil production than the Iraqis are!

    The next time you hear a blithering idiot spoiled brat, drunken, drug addicted, sociopath, rich Arabic saber dancing daddie’s boy oilman, stand at a microphone and threaten YOUR safety with someone ELSE’S weapons, remember what you lost America, remember, and weep! (also see http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=a-solar-grand-plan)

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