Solar module efficiency is a topic of great concern in the solar power industry. Naturally, if one is to lay down considerable funds for a solar power generation system, the question of how much electricity will be harnessed per invested dollar is going to be a motivating factor. Presently, solar module efficiency (in terms of the ratio of output power to input power) maxes out at a little over 20% but that figure could be about to change in a big way. According to a recent statement from the University of Missouri-Columbia, Patrick Pinhero, an associate professor in the MU Chemical Engineering Department, has developed a flexible solar sheet that can capture more than 90% of available light, thus improving on conventional solar’s existing 20% light-capturing capability and showing promise for much better solar module efficiency in the near future.
Pinhero says that the energy generated using traditional photovoltaic (PV) methods of harnessing solar radiation is inefficient and misses out on harnessing a good deal of the solar electromagnetic (sunlight) spectrum that is available. The product Pinhero and his team have developed is basically a thin, flexible sheet of tiny antennas which they call “nantenna”. These nantenna are reportedly capable of harvesting the heat from industrial processes, then converting it into usable electricity.
The team aims to fashion the technology into a direct solar facing nantenna device that could of collect solar irradiation in the near infrared and optical regions of the solar spectrum. In a statement Pinhero said, “If successful, this product will put us orders of magnitudes ahead of the current solar energy technologies we have available to us today.”
To get the ball rolling, Pinhero’s team is working to secure funding both from the U.S. Department of Energy and private investors. Pinhero’s team says they believe a product that would compliment existing PV installations could be available in about five years. Pinhero also points out that, because the product is a thin, mold-able film, it could potentially be integrated into roof shingle products or customized to power vehicles.