There’s a lot of sun at the University of California at Davis and the University of California at Santa Cruz, and a lot of bright ideas about solar power. A team of researchers there is taking a new approach to efficiency in solar cells, based on nanotechnology, and will have three years and $1.5 million, courtesy of the National Science Foundation, to improve on existing technology.
Researchers at these schools hope to overcome traditional limits on solar cells–which currently work on the principle of “one photon in, one electron out“–by constructing them out of extremely small nanoparticles. The goal is to generate several electrons for each photon, raising the maximum efficiency overall between 42 and 65 percent.
The feasibility of this basic approach has been demonstrated by researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, according to Gergely Zimanyi, professor of physics at UC Davis and principal investigator on the NSF grant–but the Los Alamos group did not go on to build a fully-functioning solar cell based on the nanotech paradigm.
The UC Davis/UC Santa Cruz team includes scientists with experience constructing such tiny cells and hopes to create a fully functioning, optimized solar cell from germanium and silicon nanoparticles before the end of the grant cycle.