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Clean Power researchers at Lawrence Berkeley Lab develop full light spectrum solar cell

Published on January 26th, 2011 | by Tina Casey


Finally! A Low Cost Solar Panel that Can See in the Dark

January 26th, 2011 by  

researchers at Lawrence  Berkeley Lab develop full light spectrum solar cellWell…it can almost see in the dark. Scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have just announced that they’ve been able to confirm a new high-efficiency solar cell design that handles pretty much the entire solar spectrum. To ice the solar cake, the new technology can be manufactured using ordinary low-cost processes that are currently in use.

Harnessing the Full Spectrum for Solar Power

A conventional solar cell uses one kind of semiconductor, which captures light from one part of the spectrum. The new solar cell uses different materials, stacked in layers, that respond to different wavelengths. As explained by LBL writer Paul Preuss, the trick is to use one alloy, gallium arsenide nitride, but replace some of the arsenic atoms with nitrogen to create an intermediate energy band. This third band enables the semiconductor to respond to low and mid-energy wavelengths as well as the more “energetic” parts of the spectrum.

Lowering the Cost of Full Spectrum Solar Cells

In earlier trials, the researchers used different alloys that achieved full spectrum responses but involved very high production costs. The advantage of gallium arsenide nitride is that it is very similar to a conventional semiconductor, gallium arsenide, and it can be produced with a commonly used fabrication method involving chemical vapor deposition.

Full Speed Ahead to Full Spectrum Solar Cells

The Lawrence Berkeley breakthrough represents just one path to increasing the efficiency and lowering the cost of solar cells. Over at Ohio State University, a full spectrum solar cell is also under development, and Stanford is pursuing a new technology that cuts around the problem of solar cell efficiency loss due to high temperatures. And then of course there’s low cost solar paints on the horizon, new solar cell fabrication methods, and the use of low-cost materials for concentrating solar power…well, it may be just a bit too soon to say goody-bye to “yesterday’s energy” but we’re sure on our way.

Image: Moon by r w h on flickr.com.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • gary

    I bought a thin, glass solar panel a couple of years ago, in full sun gets 90 volts, 12 volts in almost dark areas. I paid $20 for it, and 2 years later was $400 on e-bay. I don’t see it there any more. I don’t know much about solar and have no idea what it is good for. Can somebody help. Gary, B.C. Canada

  • jack

    Would you guys please hurry up with this?

    This is so feasible to take advantage of non-visible light spectrum, There is no reason full spectrum solar panels, at least small ones, are not available on the market. The Shockley–Queisser limit of 34% does not apply to 3D full spectrum cells.

    Okay I’ll help, simple 3D model first processes and then breaks visible light into spectrum. Top layer is a transparent solar cell that processes ‘ultraviolet’ (UV) spectrum, and allows white visible light to pass through to lower layers. Mid layer of silicone dioxide strips ‘white light’ into normal electrical impulses, and finally, the ‘infrared’ bottom layer of carbon, strips electrons in final capacity collection,

    That should make small solar cells roughly 80% efficient.

    Okay, go get em smarty pants innovators around the world.

  • I see the point: more darkness, more light. If you have flux of darness of -1000 W/m2, then… Just delighted.


    Hope Works Well. Becomes more general public friendly & close nit.Where is it made / manufactured, Can I get one for my use and trials. Can you furnish full Technical , Economic Viability, Any application restrictions. How many are already in use. Hope to hear from the Unit manufacturer.

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  • I. P. Daly


  • Complete and utter rubbish.
    The panel cannot see in the dark.
    The panel can use the full spectrum of daylight – including near-visible infrared – a bit better than existing panels. (in principle, it’s not in a saleable form yet).

    It cannot produce significant (a tenth of a percent) power in the dark.

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  • Praba230890

    Good and mostly required breakthrough at this time…..

  • NO

    Half stories, just teasers.
    BS site.

    • Tina Casey

      Half comment.

  • michael

    I live in mexico. please where can i buy a system?

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